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Ryan Coauthors Electronic Medical Records Bill to Reduce Medical Errors, Lower Health Care Costs

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Location: Washington, DC


Ryan Coauthors Electronic Medical Records Bill to Reduce Medical Errors, Lower Health Care Costs

In order to reduce medical errors, improve efficiency and lower health care costs, and give every person a chance to own his or her secure electronic medical record, First District Congressman Paul Ryan has coauthored legislation to pave the way for a nationwide health information network of electronic medical records.

The bipartisan bill (H.R. 2991), which resembles legislation that Ryan introduced last year, was introduced in the House of Representatives this week by another coauthor - Congressman Dennis Moore of Kansas. In the Senate during the last Congress, Senator Sam Brownback introduced similar legislation, and he intends to do so again in the near future. It would lay the regulatory groundwork for the creation of Independent Health Record Trusts (IHRTs) to maintain electronic health records for those who choose to participate.

This legislation - the Independent Health Record Trust Act - would give patients a way to make sure their up-to-date medical information can easily travel with them to whatever doctor or hospital they visit, improving treatment and reducing mistakes in the process. Moving from paper-based records to electronic medical records will also help reduce excess paperwork, lower administrative costs, and streamline the reporting of public information - lowering the cost of health care in the process. A RAND study released two years ago found that the use of electronic medical records and establishment of a nationwide health information network could save $152 billion a year.

"With the technology that's available today, there's no reason that patients can't have electronic access to their complete medical history and current treatment information," Ryan said. "Just as people can check their bank account information online or using their ATM card, patients who want to should have electronic access to their medical records and be able to share this information with their doctors. This will help improve treatment and avoid errors such as harmful prescription drug interactions."

Currently, the U.S. has no unified, electronic system for storing health records. The Independent Health Record Trust Act provides legal and regulatory guidelines for the establishment of independent health record trusts that would store and manage a patient's electronic health records, in effect creating a nationwide health information network.

Under this proposal, individuals could choose to file their medical information in an "account" with an accredited Independent Health Record Trust (IHRT) that is certified and regulated through the Federal Trade Commission. Within one year of the bill's enactment into law, the FTC and the National Center for Vital and Health Statistics (NCVHS) would develop standards for establishment of IHRTs.

Health record trusts would be operated by member-owned institutions, much like credit unions. To be eligible to participate in an IHRT, an individual would submit their medical information to the IHRT (or allow the trust to retrieve this information) and enter into a privacy protection agreement with the IHRT. Account holders and their doctors or other health-care providers would update their records as check-ups and medical treatments are provided.

These health information trusts would manage medical information in a manner similar to the way today's financial institutions, such as banks, manage financial data - with safeguards to protect patient confidentiality. Specifically, the IHRT would have to obtain a patient's consent before releasing health information to doctors, hospitals, or others. In the case of emergency room visits, IHRTs may allow health care providers access to some limited information from the patient's record without prior authorization; however, the account holder may opt out of this type of sharing.

This electronic account system could be particularly critical during emergencies and natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, where people are away from their regular doctor or hospital. Having real-time access to patients' medical information, with their consent, would help save lives.

Under this system, individual account holders would own their medical record and be permitted to add personal health information. At the same time, they could not alter or falsify information entered into the record by a health care provider.

This legislation also would help our nation set standards for interoperability of health information technology - so physicians and hospitals in one part of the country can communicate and share information easily and confidentially with their counterparts in another part of the country.

One of the other benefits of using IHRTs to establish a secure nationwide health information network is that they would be financially self-sustaining - avoiding a costly government program. IHRTs would be permitted to raise revenue through the sale of non-identifiable health data for research purposes, as authorized by the account holder. If a patient agrees to allow the IHRT to provide some of his medical information for research purposes, as long as the data doesn't identify the patient, then the patient would be able to share in revenue generated by the sale of that information. Of course, the IHRT would need the patient's consent before providing any of his medical data for research purposes. IHRTs would also have the option of charging account fees to those who use them.


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