Group recommends road map to national health information network.
The report states that to improve care and reduce costs, patient information must be able to be sent and shared freely across the network among hospitals, laboratories, specialists, insurers, and researchers. According to the 54-page report, the federal government should guide the development of a health network by providing some initial financing and endorsing basic technical standards but should set up a separate "standards and policy entity" to handle the task.
The report concludes that a national health network should not include a central database of patient records nor should it require individuals to have health ID cards, as some have proposed. It says patients should control their own records, deciding whether and how their information can be used.
One goal is to enable the health network to operate somewhat like Internet based e-mail, in which people using different types of computers and software can send and receive messages because the open, standard technology for handling messages is used by everyone. An article recently published in the online version of the journal Health Affair estimates that $78 billion a year could be saved by moving to electronic patient records in a network with open communications standards, or interoperability. The annual savings from implementing digital patient records in the United States would be only about $24 billion annually if the communications standards are not fully open, according to The Value of Healthcare Information Exchange and Interoperability (HIEI), a report by the Center for Information Technology Leadership.
The cost of installing the computers, networking equipment, and software required to build an electronic health network will be daunting for doctors and hospitals, however; researchers estimate it would cost $276 billion over the next 10 years.
Many medical groups are making sizable investments in the creation of local networks that connect electronic patient records, and eight of the United States' largest technology companies, including IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle, have agreed to embrace open technology standards as the software building blocks for a national health information network.
European Union nations will spend $2.1 billion on electronic health records by 2008, more than double current spending levels. The United Kingdom leads Europe with its aggressive health e-records program. France and Germany rank second and third, respectively, in e-records planning and spending.