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Health IT, Public-Private Initiatives Can Improve Nation's Health Systems, Experts Say

OCTOBER 3, 2005 -- The U.S. health care system can be made safer and more effective through the use of information technology as well as an increase in public-private sector initiatives, said panelists at a Monday briefing sponsored by the Alliance for Health Reform and The Commonwealth Fund.

Dr. James J. Mongan, president and CEO of Boston-based Partners HealthCare System Inc., said his company has taken several steps to improve care, including using electronic medical records with a built-in clinical support team to help provide best practice and evidence-based medicine and tracking care on certain ailments against other health care systems and guidelines.

Dr. Gary R. Yates, chief medical officer for Sentara Healthcare, a not-for-profit healthcare system based in Norfolk, Va., also listed several initiatives to improve quality, efficiency, and access to medical care. He promoted the use of electronic hookups that permit remote monitoring by intensivists—physicians specially trained to deal with critical care situations—and teleconferencing with patients and nurses to improve quality of care. Yates said that initiative helped the hospital systems' intensive care units lower their mortality rates by 20 percent over the last five years.

Sentara also has tried to create a culture of safety by looking to other industries, such as the nuclear power industry, for strategies. As a result of several such strategies—such as instilling safe habits for error prevention and encouraging attention to detail when handling prescription drugs and hospital equipment—Sentara has reported a 47.4 percent reduction in serious patient safety events in the past two years.

Also during the briefing, The Commonwealth Fund Commission on a High Performance Health System released a report on the existing gaps in coverage, quality, and efficiency, including recommendations on how to change the health care delivery system.

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