AMA policy encourages national infotech standards

The Association plans to work with lawmakers and insurers to examine the cost impact on physicians.

By Katherine Vogt — Posted July 5, 2004

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Chicago -- The AMA will lead an effort to ensure health care information technology standards are established to allow physicians, hospitals and other health care professionals to share and exchange data, according to a resolution adopted June 15 by the House of Delegates during the American Medical Association's Annual Meeting.

Duane M. Cady, MD, chair-elect of the AMA Board of Trustees, said shared information technology could help increase patient safety and be a cost-effective tool. "This is clearly the future," Dr. Cady said.

The resolution also said the AMA would work with Congress and insurance companies to align incentives as part of the development of a national health information infrastructure so physicians aren't stuck with a disproportionate financial burden when they implement these technologies.

The cost of implementing and maintaining systems has been a concern among physicians. In testimony before the resolution was adopted, Paul Wertsch, MD, immediate past president of the Wisconsin Medical Society, said it is unfair for society to think that physicians can foot the bill for such technology. He called for a system of shared costs.

Dr. Wertsch also said adopting a standard of interchangeable technology was important to alleviate the concerns of some physicians, who have been worried that they "are going to buy a Betamax system while the rest of the world switched to VHS."

Other physicians voiced concerns about the potential for unfunded mandates from the government as it gets involved in setting technology standards and about the potential for the AMA to get sucked into that problem with the government.

Phillip Tally, MD, a Florida-based delegate from the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, said the AMA should avoid getting into the business of setting technological standards with the government. "It changes too quickly for us to keep up," he said.

But Dr. Cady said the AMA would participate in the process by chiming in "where it is appropriate for organized medicine's input."

The idea of standardizing health care information technology has been percolating in Washington for years. In 2001, the Institute of Medicine issued a report saying the health care industry should implement a national information technology infrastructure and use information technologies to improve quality of care, efficiencies and communication between physicians and patients. The AMA has participated in such an effort by the group HL7, assigned by the IOM to develop standards.

At least two bills have been introduced to Congress that would promote the universal adoption of EMRs by developing standards for the software and incentives for its use. And President Bush supports a system of electronic medical records, to be put in place within 10 years.

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