Rep. Renee Ellmers, (R-NC) has asked HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to consider studying the benefits, cost and safety of health I.T. systems, including electronic health records.

Ellmers is a nurse and chair of the House Committee on Small Business' subcommittee on healthcare and technology. Following is the text of her Aug. 11 letter to Sebelius:

"The House Small Business Committee, on which I serve, is required by the Rules of the House to study and investigate the problems of all types of small businesses. This jurisdiction extends to matters concerning small businesses and health care. I chair the Committee's Subcommittee on Healthcare and Technology.

On June 2, 2011, the Subcommittee held a hearing on the barriers to health information technology that are encountered by physicians and other providers in small practices. At the hearing, physicians testified that the cost to purchase and maintain a health IT system, in addition to staff training and downtime during the transition to health IT, are significant burdens for small practices. These barriers were mentioned even by physicians who believe health IT would ultimately benefit their practices. Providers at the hearing also stated their concern about the Medicare reimbursement penalties that will be assessed against providers who do not demonstrate 'meaningful use' of health IT by 2015.

"One of the frequently mentioned benefits of health IT has been a reduction in medical errors. However, recent news reports have noted incidents of health IT errors. An article in Sunday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette cited a baby who was killed when computerized IV equipment prepared a lethal dose of an intravenous sodium chloride solution. The machine did not catch the pharmacy technician's error. The article also noted that when a hepatitis C-positive kidney was accidentally transplanted from a live donor into a recipient, the physician team missed the electronic health records alert, and the physicians complained that their electronic records system is cumbersome and difficult to adjust to any one physician's needs.

"The Journal of the American Medical Association recently published a study of almost 4,000 computer-generated prescriptions that were received by a pharmacy chain. The report found that 12 percent of the prescriptions contained errors, which, the report said, is consistent with error rates with handwritten prescriptions.

"A modern, well-equipped office is critical to the practice of medicine, and health IT offers promise to all medical professionals. Health IT has the potential to improve health care delivery, decrease medical errors, increase clinical and administrative efficiency, and reduce paperwork.

"We must do all we can to ensure a commitment to our health care system and patient care. As technology rapidly evolves, I ask that you consider a study of health IT's adoption, benefits and cost effectiveness. As part of the study, I hope you will also consider medical error rates--both human and technological--so that all errors can be better assessed and prevented."


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