Chinese delegation looks at U.S.-style health IT

The visit to various medical facilities was part of China's effort to collect information on how to improve its new universal health care system.

By Pamela Lewis Dolan — Posted Dec. 28, 2009

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Chinese health officials visited the United States recently to learn more about the U.S. medical system and its use of health information technology.

Earlier this year, China passed legislation to create a universal health care system. Part of the reform plan involves building a nationwide health information exchange.

Representatives from the China Ministry of Health, which is heading up the country's three-year, $124 billion plan to completely reform its health care system, visited with officials at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society in Chicago.

Fran Perveiler, vice president of communications for HIMSS, said the representatives were surprised that U.S. hospitals weren't further along in adopting electronic medical records.

HIMSS Analytics, the research arm of HIMSS, has a database of 5,000 hospitals and conducts an annual survey to determine the level of EMR adoption. Its 2009 survey, which was shared with the delegation, found that only 42 hospitals were in the top two tiers of an eight-stage adoption scale.

The delegation "asked very frankly why the U.S. didn't mandate EMR adoption," Perveiler said. And they were curious as to how adoption would be moved along.

Representatives from HIMSS explained how federal legislation intends to promote EMR adoption through financial incentives, which later will turn to penalties for noncompliance.

China's road toward a universal health care system and a national EMR network comes as the U.K. and Canada, both of which have universal health care systems, recently reported trouble with the IT components of their health systems.

A report in the Dec. 7 Canadian Medical Assn. Journal said the Canadian health care system is playing "catch-up" when it comes to EMR adoption. Canada lags behind other developed countries, including the U.S. The article cites a November Commonwealth Fund study, "The Survey of Primary Care Physicians in Eleven Countries, 2009: Perspectives on Care, Costs, and Experiences," which found that only 37% of Canadian family physicians used EMRs. The survey placed adoption by family care physicians in the U.S. at 46%. Highest adoption rates were found in the Netherlands, at 99%.

And in the United Kingdom, a years-long, much-delayed effort to create a national EMR network has fallen behind schedule again, while costs have risen to nearly $21 billion.

The trip by the Chinese delegation was organized by the 21st Century Institute, an organization based in Oak Brook, Ill., which also has offices in Beijing. It promotes the exchange of information between China and the United States.

Sussy Xu, office manager at 21st Century, said the delegation started in Chicago, meeting with local hospitals as well as HIMSS. It then traveled to Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.

"Mainly they want to learn from the U.S.," Xu said. They were particularly interested in the public health system in the United States and how data are exchanged between organizations. "The U.S. is advanced, I believe, in public health information management."

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External links

"Canadian physicians playing 'catch-up' in adopting electronic medical records," Canadian Medical Journal, posted online Dec. 7 (link)

"A Survey of Primary Care Physicians in 11 Countries, 2009: Perspectives on Care, Costs, and Experiences," The Commonwealth Fund, Nov. 5 (link)

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