These are the kinds of stimulus that we should be funding. Our health care system has a lot of problems but certainly one is the redundant and archaic paper-based records and billings system. Nearly every discussion of how to reform health care, whether from the left or from the right, mentions information technology reform as a means for saving money (see below the fold). Therefore, it is good to see that a full $20 Billion has been approved in the House stimulus bill for Health Infrastructure Projects. From the story at Robert Wood Johnson Foundation:
Approved under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the bill would provide incentive payments to Medicare and Medicaid providers who implement certified electronic health record technology.
In addition...it would provide funding for health information exchanges, standards development and conformance testing, and other aspects of health IT. The bill also would establish the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT and strengthen privacy protections for individuals' personal health data. Additional provisions granted under the bill would extend federal support for broadband communications in underserved areas and establish a program to determine the effectiveness of select medical treatments. The Senate in early February is expected to consider a similar bill that calls for $23 billion in health IT spending (Ferris, Government Health IT, 1/29/09).
This will cut health care costs for Medicare and Medicaid. This will stimulate the economy because all these groups will need new electronic records systems. Those have to be made somewhere and they have to be installed, serviced, taught. In addition, the broadband communication expansion will allow rural health care providers access to these systems and provide the side benefit of giving regular folks access to broadband.
Part of me wants the entire stimulus to be put towards building roads and infrastructure. This is a bit more around the horn towards stimulus, but it is also something that won't go away. Once we drag the health care system into the digital age there won't be any going back. This paper from 2005 shows that full electronic records COULD save billions:
It estimates potential savings and costs of widespread adoption of electronic medical record (EMR) systems, models important health and safety benefits, and concludes that effective EMR implementation and networking could eventually save more than $81 billion annually—by improving health care efficiency and safety—and that HIT-enabled prevention and management of chronic disease could eventually double those savings while increasing health and other social benefits. However, this is unlikely to be realized without related changes to the health care system.
There are road blocks towards doing this correctly, but even if we do a half-ass job of implementing it the savings should push above $23 billion in about four years and should reach more than $20 billion/year in about six years.
So, what do you think is this a good use of stimulus funds?