Carmona prescribes national IT system for e-health records

The U.S. surgeon general is urging the creation of a health IT system for electronic medical records, transactions and education to improve the quality of health care, trim costs and reduce medical errors.

During an Oct. 25 panel discussion on Capitol Hill Vice Adm. Richard Carmona, who has served as the country's chief health educator for more than three years, said that health care IT is "an extraordinary tool in its infancy" and must be interoperable and have interconnectivity that allows information to flow freely.

"There is no greater tool on the horizon that we should be chasing right now that is global in nature, that will allow us to improve quality, decrease costs and help to diminish the disease and economic burden that we have before us," Carmona said.

Perot Systems Corp. of Plano, Texas, sponsored the luncheon for health care professionals, policymakers and reporters. The company derives about 46 percent of its revenue from the health care sector.

Carmona said the health care IT system should be like just-in-time (JIT) inventory systems that schedule materials to arrive exactly when they are needed in the production process.

JIT systems "really decreased the cost of doing business for any business, because at a single point of contact you had a lot of information exchange and a protected manner for the people who needed it," he said. "It brought down the transactional cost of many things in the sale of goods. I see the patient as kind of a part of that just-in-time information system that we're trying to set up."

Carmona also added that unified health care IT systems would promote health literacy and diminish disparities, mainly for minorities who have less access to health care and health information.

Carmona's remarks followed a news conference at which an advisory group on health care IT standards issued the findings of a report that also called for a connected system of electronic health care information available for all doctors and patients any time, any place.

Issued by the Commission on Systemic Interoperability, the 250-page report, titled "Ending the Document Game: Connecting and Transforming Your Healthcare Through Information Technology", sets forth the requirements for an interoperable system of health care information.

Congress created the 11-member commission when it enacted the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003. It was charged with developing a strategy to make health care information instantly accessible at all times for both consumers and their physicians.

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