A new federal initiative, called the "Decade of Health Information Technology," outlines steps for widespread adoption of electronic health records within 10 years. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson has appointed a panel to determine the cost of converting hospitals, pharmacies, and other elements of the health care system to computer-based technology. The panel will report on the likely benefits of electronic records by the end of the year.
Health care experts agree that electronic records can reduce patient-care errors, cut down on paperwork, and speed up many aspects of health care. Caregivers can access electronic records from anywhere, and the records are less likely to get lost. However, the ease of access makes protecting patient privacy especially challenging.
Currently, 13% of hospitals and 14% to 28% of physicians' practices say they have an electronic system, according to Health and Human Services data. The American Medical Association supports converting to a computer-based health care system.
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President Bush's 2005 budget contains a $50 million allotment for the effort. As a first step, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services plans to offer patients Internet access to their claims information.
To read the "Decade of Health Information Technology" report, visit the Web site of the Department of Health and Human Services at http://www.hhs.gov.