Biden Touts Recovery Act For Improving Healthcare

Aug 25, 2010 (10:08 AM EDT)

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Vice President Joe Biden unveiled a government report Tuesday that projects billions of dollars in reduced healthcare costs and significant improvements in patient care as a result of investment in health IT.

The Recovery Act: Transforming the American Economy Through Innovation, focuses on the projects that have received funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), which will distribute more than $787 billion to invest in projects that will spur economic growth and develop new industries.

The report explores four areas that have so far received ARRA funding: modernizing transportation, including advanced vehicle technology and high-speed rail; jumpstarting the renewable energy sector through wind and solar energy; building a platform for private sector innovation through investments in broadband, smart grid, and health information technology; and investing in groundbreaking medical research.

ARRA is investing $20 billion in health IT that will accelerate the adoption of electronic health records (EHRs), e-prescribing, and e-care. Approximately $2 billion is being spent to support hospitals, providers, states, and other stakeholders in adopting health IT. The remaining funds will be used to incentivize physicians and providers to adopt health IT in 2011 and beyond, the report said.

Also of note is the work being done through the $250 million awarded to the Beacon Communities program, which will help local areas demonstrate the use of new technologies aimed at sustainable improvements in health outcomes, healthcare quality, safety, and efficiency. These efforts will not only cut certain medical costs, but also improve care, the document said.

"Through the Recovery Act, we're giving [physicians and scientists] the tools to make the most profound innovation of all: improving and extending health and human life, while bringing down the cost in medicine," Biden said.

The report cites instances in which healthcare delivery organizations are using Recovery Act money to chart groundbreaking medical innovations.

The Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems (EMHS) in Bangor, Maine is using its $12.8 million award to improve home-based care and reduce unnecessary emergency department (ED) visits. Funds from the Recovery Act are being used to link healthcare providers to an existing health information exchange to promote the use of telemedicine. According to the report, over the course of three years, EMHS will seek to achieve reductions in avoidable ED visits, and estimates that a 15% reduction in avoidable ED visits would translate to a 7,000 visit reduction locally, totaling $2 million in savings per year.

"If this reduction were made nationally, it could potentially translate to approximately 18 million fewer ED visits, which could save billions of dollars in healthcare spending per year," the report said.

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In Concord, N.C. the Southern Piedmont Community Care Plan will use its $15.7 million award to increase the number of patients with well-controlled blood pressure and lipids and reduce the number of children with asthma that end up in the ED. The report noted the award will also fund electronic health record (EHR) management and telemedicine equipment, as well as develop an indexed image repository to avoid unnecessary imaging such as duplicate x-rays. Work at the Southern Piedmont Community Care Plan could translate to 14,000 people with reduced risk of heart attacks and strokes and two percent fewer childhood asthma patients in the ED each year.

"If these gains were achieved nationally, it could mean millions of people would have reduced risks of heart attack and stroke, and could reduce the number of ED visits associated with complications from childhood asthma and other chronic diseases," the report said.

Another example is the Western New York Clinical Information Exchange in Buffalo, N.Y., which is using its $16.1 million award to improve the quality of care provided to chronic disease patients and to reduce costs associated with avoidable hospitalizations and ED visits. The Recovery Act funds will purchase clinical decision support tools such as registries, point-of-care alerts, and new telemedicine solutions. The goal is for 5,000 diabetics to achieve improved control of their blood sugar and other levels, averting as many as 2,300 complications. The program, the report said, will also seek to reduce by 15% the number of ED visits, hospitalizations, and re-admissions for individuals with diabetes and congestive heart failure, saving approximately $1.1 million per year starting in 2012.

"If these improvements were generalized nationally, approximately 360,000 diabetic Americans could be affected," the report said.

The report also noted that the government's investment in broadband expansion is "a central component to addressing America's healthcare."

The use of broadband can reduce the burden and cost of traveling by using telemedicine, and can help physicians constantly monitor patients. The report cited the Department of Veterans Affairs, which has dramatically decreased unnecessary hospitalizations through a wide-ranging effort to help veterans manage chronic conditions at home.

"Hospital use was decreased 25% overall, and 50% for patients in highly rural areas, by linking 32,000 chronically ill veterans with healthcare providers and care managers through video phones, digital cameras, and messaging and tele-monitoring," the report said.

ARRA has also provided funds to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support groundbreaking research in the work surrounding human genome sequencing, as well as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and autism, said the report.

"The number of complete human genomes anticipated to be sequenced in the next few years is expected to dwarf, by 50 times or so, the number of complete human genomes that have been sequenced to date," the report said. "At the same time, NIH is pursuing multiple avenues of bringing down dramatically the cost to sequence a genome. The goal is to sequence an entire human genome for $1,000, a cost that now exceeds 50 times that amount."