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Gingrich calls for medical update

The Baltimore Sun

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich stressed the merits of switching to electronic medical records in an appearance in Baltimore yesterday.

"It's been a very great disappointment that the administration has not proposed to go to 100 percent electronic health records," Gingrich said yesterday. He was in Baltimore to speak at a health care symposium sponsored by Siemens, which ends today.

He said Congress could have paid for such a changeover with the money now being directed to the subprime mortgage loan bailout. During a wide-ranging speech, he likened the changes in the medical industry to Major League Baseball, which in recent years has increasingly focused on using data to make personnel decisions.

The symposium is concentrating on preventable medication errors, health care information technology and health care issues. Siemens makes software that allows doctors and hospitals to distribute prescriptions electronically; the conference is also focusing on users of its software, which is called Computerized Physician Order Entry.

Gingrich, a Georgia Republican, was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1978. He was elected speaker in 1995 after Republicans took over the House, a post he held until he left Congress in 1999. He has served as author, speaker and political commentator.

He has long focused on health reform, and he founded the Center for Health Transformation, a think tank in Washington. Siemens is among its funders.

Gingrich said that the current political debate was not really addressing health care. "There's a big lag between the current political conversation and the next generation of ideas," he said.

Many experts say electronic health records will improve care, reduce medical errors and reduce waste. But 90 percent of U.S. doctors and more than two-thirds of U.S. hospitals still use paper for patient records. Experts say the federal government should do more to encourage the switch.

The federal government will spend up to $150 million over the next five years. But many other countries spend more: The United Kingdom allocated more than $11 billion to digitize its health care system, and Canada is spending a billion dollars.

Gingrich also advocated increasing the focus on preventive care instead of treatment, which he said would save billions. "I think we ought to go to K-through-12 physical education five days a week," he said.

He said the Center for Health Transformation is working on proposals to create tax credits for inner city grocery stores to stock more healthy food such as fruits and vegetables. Some researchers have argued that poor inner-city health is partially explained by lack of easy access to healthier

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