Chairman Davis and distinguished members of the Committee on Government Reform, thank you for inviting me to meet with you today.
Attention Has Intensified
In the last few years, public and private sector awareness of the need for information technology in health care has intensified dramatically. Prominent government activities include the President’s call for the creation of electronic health records for all Americans, numerous legislative bills, implementation of many agency pilots and programs, the activities of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, and, most recently, the establishment by Secretary Leavitt of the AHIC. These efforts represent a broad commitment to bring about change.
But all this is merely prelude. We continue to lack an information infrastructure that supports safe, efficient, evidence-based medical care. Even the best-trained, best-equipped, and best-intentioned American health professional cannot provide high quality care in an information vacuum. No research study or pilot program better highlights this point than the reality of Hurricane Katrina. As you know, hundreds of thousands of residents of areas hit by the hurricane were displaced from their homes and most are still living in shelters or temporary housing across the United States. Neither the evacuees nor their current health care providers have access to their paper medical records, many of which were destroyed by the hurricane. A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Washington Post estimated that 40 percent of evacuees were taking prescription medications before the storm hit, and many more need new or additional medications now. Many of their medical records can never be recovered and have literally been washed away by the total devastation of their usual sources of care. Piecing their medical histories together and figuring out what medications they were on is a daunting task for those providing their care now.