25 Feb Bill Frist: Politics matters in healthcare IT
Orlando, Fla. – The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society kicked off its 2008 Conference today as former U.S. Senator Bill Frist delivered the opening keynote. Frist, a physician who became Senate Majority Leader, delivered the message that politics matters in improving healthcare information systems and ultimate patient outcomes.
The Tennessee Republican set the agenda that politics matters in healthcare by noting that he was the first physician since 1928 to serve in the U.S. Senate, and by noting the forthcoming presidential election is the first time since 1928 that there has not been an incumbent president or vice president running for office.
Frist delivers a speech like a preacher, and he made a passionate plea to improve healthcare outcomes in the United States. Before one of the healthcare industry’s largest membership organizations, he said the United States is the most prosperous and powerful nation on Earth and spends the most of any country in the world on healthcare, yet there are 20 nations in which people stand a better chance of living past 60 years of age.
In addition, he said there are 21 countries that have a lower infant mortality rate than the U.S., which spends two times more on healthcare, at $6,102 per capita, than any other nation.
We need to reduce cost, Frist said, because health insurance premiums are rising three times faster than wages.
“The healthcare sector is growing two percent faster than GDP as a whole,” he said. “This is not sustainable, and we are in a 40-year run where that is the case.”
With approximately 40 million Americans lacking healthcare insurance, Fritz said, “we need to do a better job of measuring quality outcomes.”
If you don’t have insurance and do not have cancer detected earlier, then you end up with higher costs, diminishing quality of life, and eventually death, he said.
Obama vs. McCain
HIMSS, which represents more than 20,000 individual and more than 300 corporate members, is focused on the optimal use of healthcare information technology in the delivery of care. Before discussing healthcare IT’s role in improving health outcomes, Frist said the presumptive Republican nominee, Arizona Senator John McCain, would likely face Illinois Senator Barack Obama in the fall 2008 presidential match up.
Fritz stressed that the presidential matchup is not all the healthcare industry should keep its eyes on. He said the U.S. Senate races bear watching because minority Republicans are defending 12 seats, majority Democrats are defending two seats, and Democrats probably will maintain a lead in the Senate. However, he noted that Senate rules mean the Democrats must get a filibuster proof 60 seats to be effective in passing legislation. They now have 51.
But will elections make a difference? Frist compared and contrasted the various Democratic and Republican proposals for health savings accounts, tax breaks, and universal healthcare, but said any healthcare IT incentives must be aligned with value.
“We need to make it easier for providers to adapt health IT,” he said. “These changes need to improve outcomes based on competition to build value-based systems. Incentives need to be aligned around value. The government role is an enabler.”
To encourage outcome measurement, he added that the industry must be more patient-centric.
Healthcare IT legislation
Regarding healthcare IT, Frist said, “The primary speaking points are privacy and security, and the cost issue – where is the money coming from? It’s more than just giving physicians $30,000 for healthcare IT without better measurement of outcomes.”
Frist concluded by saying that the barrier for improving outcomes is not new technology, but better outcome reporting, adoption of electronic medical records where patients want better information at the point of care, and physicians’ need for better incentives to offset their time constraints as barriers to their use of healthcare IT.
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