Bush to visit Baltimore veterans center

President to promote plan to computerize U.S. medical records

April 27, 2004|By Julie Hirschfeld Davis | Julie Hirschfeld Davis,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - President Bush will visit Baltimore's medical center for veterans today to promote his plan to computerize Americans' medical records within the next decade.

As he resists election-year attacks on his economic record, Bush is planning to use his fourth presidential visit to Baltimore to promote the health records proposals as part of a technology agenda he says can fuel innovation and spur economic growth.

"Medicine ought to be using modern technologies in order to better share information, in order to reduce medical errors, in order to reduce costs in our health care system by billions of dollars," Bush said yesterday in Minneapolis, where he began highlighting his high-tech proposals.

Bush also called for a permanent end to taxes on high-speed Internet access as part of a plan to make Internet access affordable to all Americans by 2007. He also announced the awarding of $350 million in new grants, kicking off his administration's $1.2 billion effort to develop hydrogen fuel technology.

"By leading the world when it comes to innovation and change, we'll make America a hopeful place for those who want to work and those who want to dream and those who want to start their own business," Bush said.

Many health care and information technology experts say that computerizing medical records could cut billions from the $1.4 trillion health care budget, reduce medical errors and improve the quality of care.

But the health care industry has no common standard for creating such electronic records - which could include a patient's medical history, health charts and prescription information - or for making them available across the complex web of doctors, hospitals and other providers that care for patients.

In his State of the Union address, Bush set the goal of developing electronic health records for Americans within a decade and said he would double - to $100 million - the budget for health information technology.

He called yesterday for the creation of a position at the Department of Health and Human Services, a national health information technology coordinator, to oversee the transition from paper to digital health files.

Bush's Baltimore trip comes as Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, is making a swing through Rust Belt cities whose workers have been especially hard hit by the rough economic conditions of the president's first term.

In West Virginia yesterday, Kerry accused the Bush administration of turning "a blind eye" to other countries' violations of global trade laws and promised that, if elected, he would enforce the rules more rigorously.

"This administration seems to think that everything is just fine the way things are," Kerry said in a speech in Wheeling. "We don't."

Kerry contrasted his pledge to create 10 million jobs with Bush's tenure, which has seen the evaporation of 2.8 million manufacturing jobs.

"Bush has spent the last four years making empty but convenient promises rather than offering real solutions to create new and better jobs," Stephanie Cutter, a spokeswoman for Kerry, said in a statement.

The goal of computerizing health records is hardly a partisan one. Two Democrats, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy of Rhode Island, have introduced legislation to do so.

Bush chose to hold today's event in Baltimore because the veterans medical center has been at the forefront of the effort to develop computerized health records, said Jeanie Mamo, a White House spokeswoman.

The VA Maryland Health Care System uses a high-tech system that computerizes everything from medical histories to diagnostic imaging, according to spokeswoman Monica A. Smith. Physicians there can use computers to retrieve electronic lab results and X-ray images, as well as weight and blood pressure data.

About 140 people, including Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Tommy G. Thompson, the secretary of Health and Human Services, and Anthony J. Principi, the secretary of Veterans Affairs, are to attend today's health care technology event with Bush. Among the other guests - all invited by the White House - are veterans, health care professionals, staff of the medical center and doctors from the Johns Hopkins University.

Bush last visited the Baltimore area in December, when he attended a fund-raiser at an Inner Harbor hotel, then paid a visit to a Home Depot store in Lansdowne.

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