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Analysis: Bloomberg pushes ehealth records

By OLGA PIERCE, UPI Health Business Correspondent

WASHINGTON, Feb. 12 (UPI) -- New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called for universal electronic health records by 2012 at a major health policy conference Monday.

"Putting (electronic health records) into effect -- and making them the heart of a pay for prevention system -- must become a national priority," Bloomberg said at the National Health Policy Conference.

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"In this day and age, there is no excuse for any more delay," he said. "So let's set this national goal: Five years from today, every doctor's office, clinic and hospital in America that accepts Medicaid and Medicare must be using prevention-oriented electronic health records."

The records are computerized versions of the bulky paper files occupying shelves in doctors' offices and hospitals. Proponents of eliminating paper files say they result in medical errors and are difficult to transfer between providers. But adoption of the records still lags behind the use of technology in all other industries, he said, and cities alone do not have the resources to fix the problem.

New York City has already invested heavily in electronic health records, becoming one of the first cities to implement them in public hospitals and community health centers, the mayor said. Last year the city government committed $27 million to help make the technology needed for the records affordable to doctors.

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The city health department is even analyzing its successes and failures to build a national model for electronic health records, but local governments cannot achieve the transition alone, according to Bloomberg.

The federal government can help achieve the five-year goal, he said, by giving doctors and hospitals money to buy computers, restructuring Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement to reward providers who can show they are using the records to focus on prevention, and emphasizing primary care.

While many bills to further electronic health records have been proposed in Congress, none has made it into law, despite support from politicians across the political spectrum, Bloomberg said. That kind of hesitation is getting in the way of important progress in adopting electronic health records.

"Warm feelings for (electronic health records) haven't yet ignited Washington into action or funding or anything (on) the scale we need," he said. "Proposed legislation isn't enacted legislation."

Bloomberg estimated the total cost of the transition at $20 billion, which he said was a small sum compared to the trillions of dollars currently spent on healthcare in the United States.

Adoption of streamlined records should be part of an overall shift of emphasis away from expensive procedures to inexpensive preventive measures, he said.

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"What we're doing is encouraging expensive forms of treatment and discouraging less-costly disease prevention. We're breaking the bank and certainly not getting our money's worth.

"I'm not a psychiatrist, but I think I know the clinical term that describes this: it's nuts."

Emphasizing less expensive preventive care will save money in the long run and make plans to cover the uninsured -- like those proposed by President Bush and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger -- more affordable, Bloomberg told United Press International.

The mayor, who said he is not planning to run for president in 2008, called on those who are running to propose substantive healthcare reform plans that clearly state who will be helped and who will foot the bill.

Although their plans are not perfect, Bush and Schwarzenegger are ahead of the pack in that respect, he added. "At least they've come out with plans."

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