A Medical Device Daily

Top officials of the Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS; Chicago), the nation's largest organization focused on healthcare information technology (IT), have urged President George Bush to restate his call for most Americans to have an electronic health record (EHR) within the next 10 years during his State of the Union address tomorrow night.

HIMSS President and CEO H. Stephen Lieber and Chairman Blackford Middleton, MD, sent a letter to President Bush last week urging him to restate his backing of EHRs.

“Your focus on EHRs in your 2004 and 2005 State of the Union addresses sparked private-sector interest, innovation, standards and policies,“ said the letter. “We commend you for setting an ambitious goal of ensuring that most Americans have an EHR in the next 10 years.“

Lieber and Middleton said the healthcare industry “heard your clarion call and, as a result, an unprecedented number of exciting, results-oriented initiatives are under way – all designed to improve the quality, safety, and efficiency of patient care.“

Because this past year has witnessed what the HIMSS leaders termed “an outpouring of congressional support for the computerization of health information,“ they said in their letter: “We believe Congress will work with you to pass bipartisan legislation that fulfills the promise of bringing EHRs to most Americans by 2014.“

Their letter added: “We urge you to call on Congress to pass legislation accelerating the adoption of EHRs – legislation you can sign into law this year. We are convinced if you include a reference to EHRs and the importance of utilizing the industry's technological innovations in your 2006 . . . address, members of Congress, federal and state governments, the industry and the general public will know that healthcare in America must and will change under the Bush Administration.“

Founded in 1961, HIMSS represents about 17,000 individual members and some 275 member corporations that employ more than 1 million people.

Push on to expand USPHS corps

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Mike Leavitt earlier this month unveiled an initiative to transform the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps.

Leavitt said that over the next two months, strategies would be developed to increase the size of the corps and improve its ability to respond quickly to urgent public health needs.

The initiative seeks to:

  • Increase the number of officers by 10%, to a total of 6,600 members.
  • Improve response operations and team-oriented deployment process.
  • Change the recruitment process so that it includes stronger personal incentive programs and a better approach for assigning officers.

Leavitt said the changes would enable the Commissioned Corps to address public health challenges more quickly and efficiently.

In addition to increasing the ranks of the unit, he said the changes would streamline the emergency response resource's assignment and deployment process, as well as increase its ability to recruit new personnel. “We are undertaking this transformation to ensure that this elite force is better-equipped to meet the public health needs and necessities of the future,“ Leavitt said.

The USPHS is one of the seven uniformed services and is dedicated to protecting, promoting and advancing health and safety. Its officers work around the world to help in times of disaster and to provide day-to-day healthcare for underserved populations domestically.

For instance, more than 2,000 Commissioned Corps officers were deployed to the Gulf region before, during and after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. HHS said they set up and staffed field hospitals and emergency medical clinics; treated sick and injured evacuees; ensured that hospital structures, food supplies and water supplies were safe; conducted disease surveillance; and worked with local and state health authorities to address other immediate and long-term public health needs.

As part of the event at which Leavitt announced the new initiatives, Dr. John Agwunobi was sworn in as assistant secretary for health and an admiral in the Commissioned Corps. As the highest-ranking officer in the corps, he will serve as the secretary's primary advisor on matters involving the nation's public health and oversee the USPHS.

Agwunobi joins HHS from Florida's Department of Health, where he held the position of secretary of health and state health officer for the past four years. His work with the Florida Department of Health began in 2000, when he began as deputy secretary and deputy health officer. Prior to that time, he worked in children's health for more than seven years in the Washington area.

Poll shows backing for medical research

According to a new national poll commissioned by Research!America, six in 10 Americans (58%) say greater funding for medical and health research is essential to the country's future health and economic prosperity.

More than half (51%) think a greater national commitment to medical research is a way to manage U.S. healthcare costs, and 51% want President Bush to ask for increased funding for health-related research when he makes his 2007 budget request next month.

The Research!America poll found that Americans rate health-related research (94%) as equal to homeland security (92%) in terms of the nation's priorities.

“Americans place a high value on medical research and recognize it as one of our nation's most crucial priorities,“ said John Edward Porter, Research!America's chairman of the board. “They understand that strong investment in research and science is critical not only for global scientific leadership but for the health of our economy and the American people.“

Nearly two-third of respondents – 63% – said they are willing to pay $1 more a week in taxes for additional medical research, and 57% said they are willing to pay $1 more for each prescription drug to support such research.

Charlton Research conducted the poll by telephone among 800 U.S. citizens ages 18 and over in January. The sample was proportionate to the nation's demographics, including geography, gender and ethnicity.

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