WASHINGTON - Noting that health care is one of the few segments of the American economy not to have been transformed by modern, efficient information technology, a Verizon executive Wednesday (June 4) urged Congress to pass a health care information technology bill that has broad support.
Testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, Marc Reed, Verizon executive vice president for human resources, expressed concern that further delays to establishing a foundation in law for the use of health care IT, including incentives for adoption and procedures for setting standards, would be costly - and in many cases, lethal.
"According to the Institutes of Medicine, as many as 100,000 people die each year from medical errors," Reed testified. "One way to help prevent these errors is access to accurate and up-to-date electronic records, and that is exactly what Health IT provides. I urge all members of Congress to vote to enact this legislation this year. Passage will be a big step toward creating the 21st century health care system that America needs."
Health IT can connect doctors, hospitals, pharmacies, labs and patients with complete and up-to-date test results, prescription records, the latest best-practice information, and access to medical histories at any time. According to the RAND Corporation, Health IT has the potential to save as much as $81 billion a year in efficiencies and improved health outcomes. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has estimated that as much as 30 percent of health costs could be eliminated through widespread adoption of Health IT.
Some of the benefits include patients having the ability to access and review a doctor's advice in private and at their convenience, look up test results, and confirm prescriptions. Adult children of aging parents would be able to participate in the decision-making and care, and patients in rural areas could, in many cases, receive examinations without having to leave their homes.
Reed - who oversees $4 billion in health care benefits to 900,000 Verizon employees, retirees and their dependents - cited three essential components to health care IT legislation: the development of uniform, interoperable standards; developing the standards in conjunction with two different advisory committees, one to provide input on policy and another made up of private-public partners including purchasers; and support for adoption of these standards so that providers and payers know that the systems they invest in will communicate with each other.
Citing the importance for providers who lack adequate resources for purchasing health care IT systems to have access to grants or loans, Reed said such assistance should be a "last resort" but that it is necessary to ensure the systems are uniformly adopted nationwide.
Reed also highlighted the increased security and privacy that Health IT offers in contrast to today's paper-based system, which allows almost anyone to "open a filing cabinet, take out sensitive patient information, even copy and distribute it, then return the papers without detection."
"Health IT should establish a firewall around patient data, requiring passwords and permission to gain access, and leaving an audit trail of who accessed the data, when and why," Reed testified.
In 2007, Verizon began offering salaried employees electronic personal health records as part of an online health portal, HealthZone, which offers personalized and confidential tools and resources to help users understand their current health status, set health goals, and make better health care decisions.
Verizon's Electronic Personal Health Records program is voluntary. Employees must enroll, and health care information is imported and managed from various sources - physicians, nurses, hospitals, pharmacies and labs - as well as information entered by the employee, including family history. The system analyzes patient information to provide timely medication and care alerts automatically, informing employees when the care they are receiving appears to be inconsistent with best practices.
Verizon has long been engaged in efforts to improve health care. In December 2006, Verizon Chairman and CEO Ivan Seidenberg committed the company to Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt's four goals to improve health care quality and reduce costs through increased use of technology and providing more information to consumers.
Seidenberg was also the only non-health care member of the Federal Commission on Systemic Interoperability, a group of medical, insurance, governmental, technological and corporate leaders tasked by Congress to develop recommendations and a timeline for the adoption of privacy-protected systems of electronic health information.
In addition, Verizon was a founding member of pay-for-performance programs Bridges to Excellence and Leapfrog, which reward providers and hospitals for quality care and health information technology implementation.
Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ), headquartered in New York, is a leader in delivering broadband and other wireline and wireless communication innovations to mass market, business, government and wholesale customers. Verizon Wireless operates America's most reliable wireless network, serving more than 67 million customers nationwide. Verizon's Wireline operations include Verizon Business, which delivers innovative and seamless business solutions to customers around the world, and Verizon Telecom, which brings customers the benefits of converged communications, information and entertainment services over the nation's most advanced fiber-optic network. A Dow 30 company, Verizon employed a diverse workforce of approximately 232,000 as of the end of the first quarter 2008 and last year generated consolidated operating revenues of $93.5 billion. For more information, visit www.verizon.com.