June 2007

Building Information Capacity for Better Health: US and Beyond

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The terms e-Health and health information technology (HIT) are used somewhat interchangeably in the United States.  Both refer to the use of appropriate technologies related to computing, information, networking, and communications, in support of health, and the goals of the healthcare system.  Abroad, e-Health often falls under a broader label, including any application of ICT for health in its ambit.

Countries around the world, including the United States, are becoming increasingly interested in using health information technology (HIT) to improve citizen health and to address pressing healthcare challenges, ranging from preventative care to pandemics. This article outlines key shifts in policy and practice on both the domestic and international fronts to integrate HIT into healthcare delivery, which  in turn, can help people live longer, healthier lives.

Here I want to clarify a small point. The terms e-Health and health information technology (HIT) are used somewhat interchangeably in the United States.  Both refer to the use of appropriate technologies related to computing, information, networking, and communications, in support of health, and the goals of the healthcare system.  Abroad, e-Health often falls under a broader label, including any application of ICT for health in its ambit.

The Story of the US

American efforts to improve the healthcare experience and tackle the problem of continued  increases in healthcare costs through HIT began in earnest in 2001, after the release of two government reports, which  estimated that hospital medical errors resulted in 44,000 to 98,000 deaths per year.  The reports called for a public-private sector effort to develop a national health information infrastructure that could support electronically-delivered healthcare services.  In the aftermath of September 11, many early HIT initiatives in the USA focused on using information technology to strengthen coordinated and rapid public health communication ,and upgrading the nation's capacity to deal with public health threats. With more than 90 percent of the estimated 30 billion healthcare transactions in the United States each year still conducted by phone, fax or mail, rapid change was sought to bolster real-time response capabilities.

Landmark public health and bio-terrorism preparedness legislation was signed into law in 2002 (P.L. 107-188).  Since this time, more than 20 bills related to HIT and better health have been introduced in Congress to address the biggest barriers preventing the use of HIT. They included the lack of interoperable electronic health record (eHR) systems that can talk to one another, ensuring that information in these systems is private and secure, and funding challenges and helping consumers and healthcare providers to employ these systems. Representatives of both national political parties-Democrats and Republicans

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