08 Jun WTN Interview: HHS Secretary calls for $550 million health care fund to reduce deaths caused by medical errors
‘Don’t forget Wisconsin’ – Thompson tells BIO attendees
Editor’s note: SAN FRANCISCO – Wisconsin’s consummate cheerleader, former governor and current Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson, was the featured lunch keynote speaker Monday at the BIO 2004 Conference, talking place this week in San Francisco. Thompson took the podium after San Francisco’s new mayor, Gavin Newsom, pitched the crowd to “not forget San Francisco” and locate and start their biotechnology companies in San Francisco. Newsom drew attention to the fact the city has not been the location of choice for bay area biotechnology firms. Following Newsom’s remarks Thompson told the crowd of thousands, “Don’t forget Wisconsin!”
Thompson addressed his agency’s efforts to fund bioterrorism research, speed the approval of new drugs, stimulate the search for cures for diseases such as Alzheimer’s, and stressed his major initiative to implement the president’s directive to speed the deployment of a nationally networked system of electronic medical records.
Following his speech, Thompson shared his thoughts with WTN on how lives could be saved by an increased adoption of information technology in the health care community.
Representatives of HHS, Dr Bill Yasnoff and Kathy Heuer will speak in greater detail on the national health care architecture and infrastructure at the upcoming Digital Healthcare Conference, to be held in Madison, Wis., June 22-33.
WTN: How can information technology be leveraged to improve patient safety and quality health care?
Tommy Thompson: The first thing we need to do is get people interested in this! For the 24 computing domains, we have solutions for which there is a comprehensive code for 20 out of 24 computer domains. At my recent summit, we introduced a system that is uniform across America.
Number two, we have now licensed SNOMED, which is now available for review on the Internet, as a common language to be used by doctors and hospitals around the country to share medical records.
Number three, we are setting up programs in which we are really moving forward in terms of getting doctors, clinics and hospitals [to] use technology to transform from being paper based. I want to get to a paperless system. That’s why I am moving so hard on this.
Number four, we have set up a $50 million fund in the secretary’s office to help move demonstration projects along.
Number five, I would like to take some of the approximately $1.2 billion we collect from fraud and abuse fines, from doctors and providers that do something fraudulent to the federal government, in order to get dollars. I’m suggesting, but have not been able to get support yet, that we take 50 percent of those dollars and set up a mini-Halliburton law or technology fund to transform hospitals and clinics to a more modern and consistent technology.
WTN: How many lives could be saved by increased use of information technology?
TT: We could conceivably reduce the number of deaths due to medical errors, reported by the Institute of Medicine to be at 100,000 per year, by at least 70 percent without any difficulty. That would save lives and money!
WTN: Is it all about money?
TT: This is not all about money. If you look at how you can improve the quality of health, the quality of the patient care and reduce mistakes, then this is money saved for the doctors, clinics and hospitals. Most hospitals and clinics that have gone this way have saved enough money to make their own investment in technology. So I am telling these people to use this technology and they will save money in the long run, even though
the upfront investment may be a steep climb. The end result is they will be saving money, improving their service and improving the quality of health.
WTN: Are providers willing to change?
TT: Health care providers need to be willing to change to make this happen. I have been pushing this for the past 18 months – this is a passion of mine. Some doctors and hospitals have been somewhat reluctant to go the next step to do it and that has been my biggest frustration. I want do as much as I can before I leave the department this year.