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Can National Health Information Technology Transform Our Antiquated Health Care System?

Can National Health Information Technology Transform Our Antiquated Health Care System?

Recognizing a need to upgrade and modernize our health care delivery system, Congress included provisions in the Medicare Modernization Act (MMA) of 2003 intended to foster the widespread adoption of health information technologies. Cancer Care & Economics (CC&E) recently spoke with David Merritt, an expert on health information technology (HIT), about how electronic innovations can reduce the medical errors and costly inefficiencies that burden our health care system.

CC&E: Please describe your work in health information technology (HIT).

MR. MERRITT: I am a project director at the Washington-based Center for Health Transformation (CHT), which was founded several years ago by former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich. We are a collaboration of leaders, from both public and private sectors, dedicated to transforming our current antiquated health care system into an interconnected digital delivery network. We believe that health information technology is one of the key enablers of that transformation process.

CC&E: In a nutshell, what is HIT?

MR. MERRITT: Health information technology refers to a system of information sharing involving computer hardware and software that stores, retrieves, and shares health care information that can be used for communication and decision-making in real time, at the point of care. [See page 50 for an article about e-prescribing, one component of HIT.]

CC&E: In your estimation, what is the current state of health information diffusion in the United States?

MR. MERRITT: It's woefully inadequate. Approximately 10% to 15% of all US physicians have HIT systems. That estimate varies greatly depending on the size and sophistication of the practice. For physicians in very small groups—1 to 6—the HIT adoption rate percentage is actually in single digits. For physician groups that are fairly large—20 to 50 plus—the adoption is actually fairly good; nearly 50% of those practices have operable HIT systems.

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