Advances in Health IT – No Government Needed

Published December 13, 2007

Health and Human Services Department Secretary Mike Leavitt has taken a special interest in Health IT (health information technology). He advocates requiring Medicare providers to use e-prescribing and e-records.

The national government has already set a deadline for implementing electronic records by 2014. Leavitt and others suggest the government should take the lead in Health IT, set the standards, and drive the market and movement toward full electronic implementation in the health care industry.

Leavitt and his colleagues are wrong about the need for government to drive the Health IT market. More legislation and major government initiatives are not needed to push Health IT forward. Private industry has made significant progress on its own and will continue to improve its response to consumer demand for personal health records (PHRs) and electronic health records (EHRs).

As Diana Ernst, public policy fellow in health care studies at the Pacific Research Institute, argues, “Thriving incentives for voluntary enterprise in Health IT are already expanding outside of government edict, and are likely to operate more effectively than blanket, government-issued programs, including heavy-handed national legislation on the private sector. We must allow Health IT to materialize freely from innovative entrepreneurship, and preserve competition in the health care industry, for the maximum protection of privacy, and the best quality of care for all Americans.”

Ernst makes four main points in her article, “America’s Consumers Will Beat Government to (Health) IT:”

  • Americans appear to be gaining interest in health records containing their medical information and history. Personal health records (PHRs) and electronic health records (EHRs) are both part of the emerging Health Information Technology (IT) initiative;
  • The Bush administration has invested time and taxpayer money in developing a hefty Health IT proposal, and Capitol Hill is teeming with Health IT bills to establish a nationwide electronic health system;
  • Despite the complexity of such an initiative, private entities are responding to patients far more efficiently; and
  • Americans should support this private, decentralized movement to develop and expand Health IT if they want truly effective, patient-focused products.

In 2003, President George W. Bush created a Health IT initiative to turn paper-managed health care records into a more transparent and efficient system using computers. Since then, government has spent more than $1 billion to expand health information technology. Not only wasteful, the government’s involvement in Health IT creates expensive and hindering mandates on private industry. Twelve different national agencies overlap on Health IT research.

The private sector, meanwhile, has taken dramatic strides to streamline Health IT on its own. While government spends more money, America’s private companies and employers move forward without government mandates, responding to consumer demand. IT companies involved in providing hospitals and insurance companies with the technology to convert paper records into e-records already comply with government regulations in place (such as HIPAA).

They also go beyond meeting those standards and set strict, ever-improving standards of their own–as result of competition. Government does not need to intercede anymore. Adding more mandates raises costs and sets static standards for companies to follow rather than allowing companies to compete dynamically with each other and adapt to consumer demand, while improving service and products.

Many tech companies have taken promising steps in Health IT. Girish Kumar, president of eClinicalWorks, “continues to see more and more business every quarter, that tells him that the market is moving forward rather than backwards or sideways.” (See “TECH: Conversation with Girish Kumar, eClinicalWorks,” The Health Care Blog). Other companies taking similar approaches and making themselves into brand names in Health IT include NextGen Healthcare, Secure Services Corp., Epic, Allscripts, and GE Centricity.

Too many people begin with the premise that government creates the standard, drives what private industry does, and deems something as good for others if it’s good enough for the government. Some have applied this faulty reasoning to the health industry as well.

Instead, as Ernst vividly demonstrates in her article, government does not need to drive the Health IT market with more useless legislation. Craig Barrett, chairman of Intel, describes Dossia’s role in health care reform as “forward-looking vision,” not “punitive action.”

Advances in Health IT should facilitate more consumer involvement in personal health care, not more government involvement.

Private industry continues to make strides on its own and respond to consumer demand for Health IT, including personal health records and electronic health records. Government should stay out of the way and allow private industry to continue this progress.

Kate Campaigne ([email protected]) is a legislative specialist at The Heartland Institute.

For more information …

To read more of Diana Ernst’s “America’s Consumers Will Beat Government to (Health) IT,” see

PolicyBot™, The Heartland Institute’s free online research database, offers more than two dozen research and commentary documents on Health IT issues. Point your Web browser to and browse the topic/subtopic combination Health/Technology.