Carper, Castle Announce $700,000 in Federal Money to Jumpstart Electronic Health Information System in Delaware

Money Will Give Delaware Leading Edge in Transition to National Health Infrastructure

WILMINGTON, DE –U.S. Senator Tom Carper and Congressman Mike Castle today announced that they secured $700,000 in a major federal funding “earmark” to jumpstart a project designed to help healthcare providers share medical information to improve patient care, save lives and substantially reduce healthcare costs. Carper and Castle have been working with the Delaware Health Information Network (DHIN) – a group made up of key hospitals, doctors, laboratories and other medical providers in the state – to find a way to transition to an electronic medical records system in Delaware. The purpose of the DHIN is to provide an electronic method for healthcare providers to request and receive appropriate health-related information for their patients at the point of care. Funding to help kick off the project was secured by Carper, Castle and Sen. Joe Biden in the Fiscal Year 2005 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, which President Bush recently signed into law. The funding will be specifically used to find and hire a credible technology vendor that has experience in this kind of project, understands national standards issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and can maintain critical privacy standards. Although DHIN advisors have yet to make formal decisions about how the new system will operate, the technology is envisioned to work similarly to a credit card system. Patients will have cards authorizing the doctor to access their information in the same way as companies access bank and credit card accounts to check financial solvency. When patients visit their family doctor’s office, a medical specialist or a hospital, they will present a card to enable their healthcare provider to have immediate access to previous diagnoses, prescriptions, laboratory results, allergies and immunizations. Such “real-time” information will reduce repetitive and unnecessary diagnostic tests and administrative costs that too often arise in today’s medical system, while cutting down on mistakes providers make because they don’t know patients’ relevant medical history. A 2000 study by the Institutes of Medicine showed that medical errors – specifically, the lack of information at the time and place of medical care — are responsible for as many as 44,000 to 98,000 deaths in U.S. hospitals each year. The technology that DHIN utilizes may save lives by making sure doctors have the information they need to treat patients in a timely and educated manner. “Doctors need immediate, up-to-date information to properly diagnose patients and save lives,” said Sen. Carper. “By making medical information available in real time, we will create a new healthcare infrastructure in Delaware that uses modern technology for the best results. I have no doubt that DHIN will save lives, reduce medical errors and cut healthcare costs.” “For too long, we have been trying to practice 21st Century medicine with 19th Century support,” said Congressman Castle. “The goal of this state-of-the-art system is to have a secure, private, and interoperable system with labs, doctors’ offices, hospitals, pharmacies and eventually nursing home throughout the state. Physicians will have real time access to patients’ medical histories and patients will be more informed and more in charge of their own healthcare. As we transition to a national infrastructure, we will face challenges, including questions about privacy, how to fund such a system and encouraging physicians to use it. But we must never lose sight of the goal — saving money and, more importantly, saving lives.” EXAMPLES OF REAL-TIME MEDICAL ERRORS AND HOW DHIN WILL PREVENT THEM: SCENARIO: A man is in a serious car accident and is rushed via ambulance to the hospital. The person is unconscious and unable to tell the doctor on duty in the emergency room that he is allergic to the radiological dye that is used in x-rays. During the cat-scan, the injured man has an allergic reaction that delays the emergency room team from working on the serious internal injuries sustained in the automobile accident. The patient dies in the emergency room. SOLUTION: If DHIN were available, doctors could have accessed the patient’s allergy history, made the adjustment for the cat-scan, and possibly saved his life. SCENARIO: A patient with severe neck pain enters the emergency room on a Saturday night. The doctor on duty orders a MRI; however, the patient tells the doctor that he had just received a MRI at his doctor’s office earlier in the week. The emergency room doctor needs to know the problem and has no way to contact the patient’s doctor since her office is not open on weekends. Another MRI is ordered with the same results from earlier in the week. SOLUTION: The expense of a second MRI would be avoided if the doctor could have accessed patient’s records through DHIN.