HHS chief continues to trumpet health care I-T

Continuing a refrain she used during her visit to Cincinnati Children’s a couple weeks ago, Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of  Health and Human Services, told a group of reporters from across the country that making improvement in health care information technology is what the future of medicine is all about.

“The investment we make in health care I-T may have more impact on better outcomes than anything else we do,” Sebelius said during a general session of the Association of Health Care Journalist’s “Journalism 2010” annual conference.

When she visited Cincinnati Children’s on April 5, the Secretary saw first hand how we’re using information technology: bar codes being used to make sure the right patients are getting the right medication at the right time; Internet access to give some parents and patients access to their medical records anytime of the day or night. She said “this is the future.”

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, right, visits the neonatal unit at Cincinnati Children’s on April 5 with Dr. Uma Kotagal and Clinical Director Pattie Bondurant

We know information technology and electronic medical records alone are not going to improve health care quality. It takes a dedicated effort among all involved. It takes a culture of safety and quality that does not happen overnight. It takes physicians and nurses and everyone involved in patient care — and yes, that includes parents and our patients themselves — to be mindful about quality, to be on the lookout for mistakes and to not be shy about speaking up. But information technology can help us “wrap our arms around” the wealth of information available to us.

Continuing the theme for the assembled journalists, Sebelius told them that while changes are not going to happen overnight, information is one of the keys to reforming the health care system. She said her department of the federal government is dedicated to unlocking the “up-until-now opaque data held by HHS.” The first slice of that data — cost comparisons by region for medical procedures — is now available.

“This is the first slice of Medicare data that will be useful to have publicly available,” she said. “We want consumers to know, not only the costs, but also the outcomes. The is the beginning to understand what they are paying for.”

Sebelius reminded the reporters — and now I’m reminding all of you — that the health reform law signed by President Obama a few weeks ago will take 10 years to become fully implemented. There are lots of details to be worked out. But the first steps have been taken.

Reporters line up to ask Secreatary Sebelius questions at the Association of Health Care Journalists’ meeting

We’re happy to be on the same page with Secretary Sebelius. Our dedication to health care information technology is well documented. It’s one reason we were honored by Information Age magazine last year. It’s the reason we’re spending tens of millions of dollars to implement an electronic medical records systems throughout our entire medical center. It’s why we’re looking forward to the future with the enthusiasm Kathleen Sebelius echoed when she said, “Health and Human Services is back!” We like health and human services.

“So I invite you to stay tuned to the transformation of health care,” she said. “It will be a whole new chapter … changes in delivery … changes in payment … changes in outcomes. And the result will be a healthier nation.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. What do you think?

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