Technology to improve health care, officials say

Published: Thursday, July 29 2010 5:31 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — As the federal government works to implement the recently passed federal health care initiative, states such as Utah are figuring out how technology will help patients receive the best care possible.

A near standing-room only audience listened in the auditorium of the State Office Building on Thursday as the national coordinator for health care information technology for the U.S. Department of Health explained the role of Health Information Technology in improving health and health care. Dr. David Blumenthal said utilizing available technology in a private and secure manner will profoundly enhance the patient-provider experience.

"There are just all kinds of ways, big and small, that information technology can make the lives of Americans easier, more convenient, healthier and also protect their information," he said.

Technology can also help lower the number of medical errors, according to the executive director of the Utah Department of Health and state HIT coordinator, Dr. David Sundwall.

"This is a way where we're likely to reduce unnecessary death or disability or reaction to drugs and tests," Sundwall said. "I'm very confident (HIT) will improve safety."

Programs developed to compile and organize patient information can be used to identify potential dangers or possible hazards during patient care, Sundwall said.

Blumenthal described an instance where he was notified electronically that one of his patients was allergic to a medication he wanted to prescribe, preventing a possible negative reaction. He said the ability to have that kind of information at your fingertips could be invaluable to medical providers.

Prudent use of HIT could also help control ever-increasing health care costs, said Marc Bennett, president and CEO of HealthInsight.

HealthInsight is a private, nonprofit, community-based organization contracted to facilitate the implementation of the health care systems of Utah and Nevada.

"There are certainly ways that HIT will help us manage efficiency better," Bennett said. "The greater opportunity with cost lies in better management of chronic disease."

If technology can be used to manage complex ailments such as diabetes, heart disease and other types of high-cost, high-intensity services, "we can avoid hospitalization, and we can reduce costs for all of us that we share across the system through our insurance," he said.

Regarding the security of sensitive individual medical information, Blumenthal said every measure will be taken to guarantee the confidentiality of everyone's private information.

"We're working with a whole bunch of different programs to make sure that the security of health information in electronic form is strong and continually improves," he said. "We're working with the president's cyber security coordinator to make sure that the most advanced security techniques … are brought to bear."

Sundwall said patients will eventually have the final say about how much of their private medical information is exchanged between providers.

He also said that Utah will be the primary regulator of HIT for residents within its borders, while taking some cues from the federal government.

"Obviously we're going to have to be compliant with federal regulations," he said. "But (we've had legislators working on) a series of bills … to put in place safeguards and some regulations on how we deal with (HIT) here."

e-mail: jlee@desnews.com

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