State-led health care tech initiatives in full bloom

FRAMINGHAM (02/13/2004) - A number of states are beginning to push health-IT projects, mirroring a new surge of interest in technology on the part of Washington politicians.

The efforts promote concepts as varied as funding incentives for hospitals with computerized order entry (CPOE) systems to networks that connect hospitals.

In Wisconsin, home of industry heavyweights Epic Systems Corp. and GE Medical Systems, governor Jim Doyle devoted part of his State of the State speech to praising a legislative effort that would make available $2 million in state Medicaid funds to hospitals that implement a CPOE system.

"The benefits will be measured in the care that is improved and the lives that are saved," Doyle said. "Most hospitals still write out prescriptions and medical records by hand. Too frequently, poor penmanship leads to poor medicine, bad record keeping leads to bad drug interactions, and in some cases, disastrous effects on the patient's health."

That's a sentiment that has been much in evidence at the federal level as well. President Bush said in his State of the Union speech that such technology could help doctors "avoid dangerous medical mistakes, reduce costs, and improve care." Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., have all called for increased use of CPOE systems as a way to boost quality and cut spending.

Other states are continuing work on previously announced IT projects. Delaware, which announced last summer that it is working to connect doctors with patient information at the point of care, has already completed the first phase of the project, according to Johnny Walker, CEO of the Patient Safety Institute, the state's partner on the project.

That first phase, a bioterrorism surveillance system, will be followed by a push to make clinical data sharing a reality across the state. "The planning process (for phase II) should be complete within the next 30 days," Walker said, "and we expect that the system will be operational in a number of hospitals and physician practices in Delaware by the end of the year."

In Utah and Kentucky, initiatives to improve communications for healthcare workers have been proposed. Kentucky's legislature passed a bill that calls for a standardized wireless communications network for emergency workers.

Utah's governor, Olene Walker, also pledged to put a statewide communications network in place. "This network ensures that every rural part of the state can communicate with hospitals, emergency centers, and urban law enforcement in case of a disaster, public safety threat, power outage, or health emergency," Walker said during her State of the State speech.

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