US House of Representatives Passes SCHIP

After earlier Senate passage, the US House of Representatives passed the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) Wednesday afternoon, and President Obama signed a reauthorized SCHIP into law a few hours later. SCHIP is expected to cover additional millions of uninsured children in coming years, funded by an increase in tobacco taxes.

This law provides an opportunity to spur implementation of health information technology in pediatric practices by tying a requirement in the HITECH legislation presently before the Senate that pediatricians begin at a date in the near future (say January 2011) to electronically upload clinical records for newborn and infant SCHIP beneficiaries to a secure centralized database in each state receiving SCHIP funds. Thereafter, these young SCHIP beneficiaries would have physician generated clinical records available in an electronic longitudinal medical record that would be securely accessible by healthcare practitioners during encounters and to the patient in a read-only format, say on a secure personal health record.

Can the US do this quickly and what are the advantages? It is overdue to develop a sense of urgency about implementing electronic health records (EHRs). A number of pediatric electronic health record systems have been certified as to functionality and security by the Certification Commission for Electronic Health Records, and with education, training, and federal financial assistance, certified EHRs can be deployed in just under two years time. The advantages of doing so are improvement in quality of care for SCHIP beneficiaries, reduction in medical errors, built-in alerts to ensure that appropriate medical procedures such as vaccinations are done in a timely manner, and lower costs of administering healthcare. As Newt Gingrich is fond of saying, we must as a nation move away from saying “No, because…” to “Yes, if….”

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