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Electronic Medical Records Can Save Lives and Lower Costs


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Electronic Medical Records Can Save Lives and Lower Costs

You probably know firsthand how complicated it can be when you visit a new doctor and try to make sure that he or she knows as much as possible about your medical history and current prescriptions. You may not have enough time to tell your doctor everything about past treatments you have undergone, and you probably don't have detailed records of every hospital or doctor's visit.

With the technology that's available today, there's no reason that patients - and their doctors, with the patient's permission - can't have electronic access to their complete medical history and current treatment information. 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 medical providers. This will help improve treatment and avoid errors such as harmful prescription drug interactions.

In order to reduce medical errors, improve efficiency, lower health care costs, and give everyone a chance to own his or her secure electronic medical record, I have coauthored legislation to pave the way for a nationwide health information network of electronic medical records.

This bipartisan legislation - the Independent Health Record Trust Act - 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.

Independent health record trusts would be operated by member-owned institutions, much like credit unions, and they would be certified and regulated through the Federal Trade Commission. To establish a health information account with the IHRT, patients would submit their medical information (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.

This 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 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.

These health information trusts would manage medical information in a manner similar to the way 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.

This legislation also would help physicians and hospitals in one part of the country communicate and share information easily and confidentially with their counterparts in another part of the country, advancing the goal of improving medical treatment and lowering costs.

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