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Commission on Systemic Interoperability
Ending the Document Game: Connecting and Transforming Your Healthcare Through Information Yechnology

Transcript: Ending the Document Game

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary
Mike Leavitt's Remarks for the Commission on Systemic Interoperability

August 29, 2005

I recently had a surgical procedure that is recommended for men my age. I made my appointment four weeks in advance, talked with colleagues about what to expect, followed the instructions about what to eat and when, and then went dutifully to my local hospital, where I proceeded to fill out my contact and insurance information seven times. SEVEN times!

I cannot imagine doing this in any other business, yet we do it in healthcare without a second thought. Just think of it: seven different people will enter my information into seven different and incompatible databases, seven different times.

Making the medical clipboard a thing of the past is what Ending the Document Game is all about. It's about moving away from filing cabinets and clipboards, and moving toward mouse clicks and memory sticks. It will mean higher quality, lower costs, and less hassle.

During the same hospital visit, when the doctor asked me about my medical history, I nearly forgot to mention that I have sleep apnea—a condition that can be serious if not treated but that I've been managing, with the help of my doctor, for several years. Sleep apnea is not a big problem for me, but it is something a doctor should know about if you are going to be anesthetized, as I was. The omission was my fault; I simply forgot to tell the doctor.

When our health practitioners do not have compatible data, they order tests and procedures we don't need. This makes healthcare more expensive. Even worse, with incomplete data, practitioners can make medical errors that may cause complications, or even cost us our lives.

We live in the digital age, and yet in healthcare we settle for the paper age, even though there is considerable evidence that interoperable electronic health records will reduce errors, improve quality, and save money.

Up to a third of healthcare spending—more than half a trillion dollars every year—is wasted on wrong or redundant care or other problems. Even more serious, more people die each year in this country because of medical errors than from motor vehicle accidents, breast cancer, or AIDS.

We can do better than this.

Our Nation has an economic and humanitarian imperative: get more efficient or face losing our economic prosperity and more human lives. Nothing short of the transformation of our healthcare system will do.

President Bush is resolved to transform the healthcare system by putting information technology to work. He has set a national goal to have most Americans using electronic health records within 10 years. And he has asked us to ensure that the privacy and security of those records are protected.

The cornerstone of this effort is the American Health Information Community. The Community is a private/public collaboration to help develop standards and interoperability in a smooth, market-led way.

I congratulate the Commission on Systemic Interoperability for its work and pledge to move forward with expedience. We will move our healthcare system to the plug-and-play world. As a result of this move, we will see fewer medical mistakes, lower costs, better care, and less hassle.

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