Tuesday, April 27, 2004

President Bush yesterday said that while his medical records were made public earlier this year, other Americans will be able to keep their records private if hospitals computerize them.

“It’s too late for me — my medical records are pretty well-known,” Mr. Bush said at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Baltimore. “I just don’t want somebody looking at my records unless I give them permission to do so.”

He added: “The federal government has got to make sure the privacy rules are strong.”

Mr. Bush was pushing a plan to computerize all hospital records in America within a decade. He disclosed hundreds of pages of his own records, including dental charts, earlier this year to rebut Democratic accusations that he shirked his duties in the Alabama National Guard.

One day after having his service again questioned by Sen. John Kerry, a Vietnam veteran, Mr. Bush yesterday made a point of mentioning that Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony J. Principi is “a Vietnam vet.” The reference was aimed at countering Mr. Kerry’s recent attacks on various administration officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney and White House political strategist Karl Rove, for not serving in Vietnam.

Mr. Bush said not all aspects of U.S. health care are on the cutting edge.

“On the research side, we’re the best,” he said. “But when you think about the provider’s side, we’re kind of still in the buggy era.”

He added: “Information technology hasn’t shown up in health care yet.”

The exception to that rule is the Veterans Administration, where officials have recently standardized the computer records of patients. Mr. Bush wants that standardization extended to private hospitals, saying it will lead to increased efficiency and lower health care costs.

In his speech to doctors, patients and health care officials, the president touted “the role of the federal government in encouraging not only the federal agencies, but the private sector, to adopt these strategies in a way that is positive for the American consumer and cost beneficial for society.”

The president said the federal government is uniquely positioned to set these standards because it is already deeply involved in health care.

“The federal government can lead because we’re spending a lot of money in health care,” he said. “We’re a large consumer on behalf of the American people.

“Think about it — Medicare, Medicaid, veterans’ benefits, federal employee health insurance plans — I mean, there’s a lot of money going through the federal government,” he added. “And therefore, it provides a good opportunity for the federal government to be on the leading edge of proper reform and change.”

Those changes will include greater productivity on the part of health care workers, Mr. Bush said. But that will not come without major investments of cash.

“It’s estimated that they spend $8,000 per worker on information technology in most industries in America, and $1,000 per worker in the health care industry,” he said. “There’s a lot of talk about productivity gains in our society, and that’s because companies and industries have properly used information technology.

“If properly used, it is an industry-changer for the good,” he added. “It enables there to be a better cost structure and better quality care delivered, in this case in the health field.”

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