13 Oct Tommy Thompson says capital needed for electronic health records
Waukesha, Wis. – To differentiate himself from other presidential wannabes, former Wisconsin governor and cabinet secretary Tommy Thompson is casting himself as the candidate of new ideas in the 2008 presidential race, and he outlined several ways to accelerate the adoption of electronic health records following his keynote address at the annual conference of the Wisconsin Biotechnology and Medical Device Association.
The conference, held at the GE Healthcare Institute, focused largely on the state’s contributions to medical breakthroughs and attracted 400 people immersed in the life science and information technology sectors.
Thompson, who served as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, referenced the role electronic health records could play in improving care and reducing costs, and he noted that a lack of capital is most often cited as a barrier to widespread adoption.
To inject that capital, Thompson would set up what he called a “mini Hill-Burton Act,” a reference to the World War II era law that launched a nationwide hospital building program. To help fund it, he would take the $2 billion in penalties collected by the U.S. Department of Justice for fraud and abuse, use it for medical technology, and seek matching funds.
“The big question is that doctors and hospitals say they don’t have the money, but if we started out with $2 billion, and each year it grows, and then have a match of one… if it’s a two-to-one match, that’s $6 billion we could have overnight to start transforming electronic medical records,” Thompson said.
Thompson also said doctors, whose resistance has been another barrier to wider adoption, must be educated about the benefits of EHRs, and employers, as the consumers of healthcare, have got to demand it as a condition of procuring health insurance on behalf of their employees.
“We’ve got to encourage business people, that when they go out and they contract for healthcare, to say that ‘you’ve got to develop electronic records,'” he said. “First of all, you’ve got to do e-prescribing. That’s number one, and secondly you’ve got to develop an electronic medical record.”
Thompson said the nation, which spends $2 trillion annually on healthcare, is headed toward a series of tough choices in 2013, when the Medicare system is projected to “go broke.” He said the biotechnology industry will play a role in shoring up the system through discoveries that address chronic illnesses, which consume 75 percent of that $2 trillion outlay, disease management, and the adoption of information technology like EHRs.
He also said the industry could play an instrumental role in what he called medical diplomacy, the ability of the United States to resolve health crises in remote parts of the world. Citing the benefits of President Bush’s AIDS initiative in Africa, the dispatching of medical ships and personnel to treat victims of the 2004 tsunami, and the rebuilding of health facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, Thompson said such efforts could ultimately be the most effective weapon in the War on Terror.
The conference also addressed biological threats and biofuel development.
Society could be on the brink of an unprecedented biological disaster, according to Terry O’Sullivan, policy and risk analyst at the University of Southern California Homeland Security Center.
Because of the interdependent, global nature of western societies and their incapacity to adequately prepare for a diversity of threats – including a mutated wave of influenza creating a full-blown pandemic – people could be at greater risk than they might imagine, O’Sullivan said.
The 22 congressional committees and subcommittees that deal with bio-security issues have created a “tremendous Tower of Babel effect,” he added. “The public – and to some extent the private sector – is realizing that it can’t count on the federal government to intervene.”
One of the dilemmas the biotech industry faces is deciding where to attack. Dr. James Prudent, chief scientific officer of EraGen Biosciences, a developer of molecular diagnostic tools, said his company got burned when it invested in testing devices for SARS and anthrax that did not sell.
“Even knowing what’s going to go on in the next year is very difficult in this type of marketplace,” Prudent said.
Experts agree that Wisconsin is strategically placed to launch the new bio-energy economy. The state has one of the top forest products industries in the nation and key cutting-edge research resources at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Bacteriology professor Timothy Donohue described cross-disciplinary research at the university to develop new chemical, computational, and engineering systems.
Efforts are directed at breeding plants with “softer” cell walls for easier processing, genetic engineering to create plants with more biomass, and finding ways to extract and optimize carbon-based fuels. “There is an enormous amount of biology to be captured,” Donohue said.
Pulse of the industry
The health of the state’s $8 billion biotech industry was given a passing grade. Attendees cited impressive revenue growth, particularly in molecular diagnostics, and greater infusions of capital.
To keep the momentum going, Gov. Jim Doyle pledged to budget more money for the state’s angel and venture investment programs. He also credited the researchers who built the foundation for today’s industry.
“Given the position we are in, we must acknowledge the people who came before us because Wisconsin has been a state that has been devoted for years to medical research,” he said.
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