More than 60% of top hospital IT executives in the US said they planned to deploy computerised electronic health records over the next year, according to a Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) survey.
Last month, US president George Bush strongly backed the use of electronic health records, saying that computerising health records would help "avoid dangerous medical mistakes, reduce costs and improve care".
An electronic health record consists of computerised patient information - including background medical history, charts and digitised diagnostic information - that is viewable and accessible by patients and their doctors.
Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House and now head of the Center for Health Transformation in Washington, said at an HIMMS news conference that he would like to see a crash effort to develop standards, which would make the use of electronic health records possible by this September.
Gingrich added that the development of standards for electronic health records - which would convert many of today's paper-based health care records into digital information - is "not rocket science", and would help cut unnecessary costs from the US health care budget. He cited as an example the NHS's multibillion-pound drive, which is designed to provide every person in the UK with an electronic record.
To illustrate the staggering growth in health care costs which, he believed IT can help control, Gingrich said that the US Department of Defense's budget for providing health care to active-military personnel and their families will soon equal its procurement budget. Unless there is a dramatic curb on health care costs, the department will soon spend as much on health care in a year as it spends on equipment.
Gingrich urged health care providers to adopt a model similar to that used by online travel agencies and offer discounted rates for care online in an effort to drive down health care costs in the same way travel sites drive down airfares.
Peter DeVault, a clinical process engineer at Epic Systems, said that developing a standardised electronic health record does face considerable hurdles, including buy-in from suppliers with disparate and nonstandard systems.
Even so, he added, he does not see any major technical roadblocks to developing electronic health record standards, a task he believed could be accomplished by next January.
Since electronic health records need to have many hooks to the network of heath care providers used by any individual, it could take until the end of the decade to complete the job, DeVault admitted.
Health care IT in the US still fights a funding battle, according to executives surveyed by HIMMS. Nearly a quarter of the executives polled cited lack of adequate financial support as the key barrier to installing and upgrading IT systems. At the same time, 47% of the survey respondents said they expect to see an increase in their IT budgets this year, while 10% forecast a decrease.
Bob Brewin writes for Computerworld.