I am testifying before the Committee on Ways and Means this morning at a hearing on promoting the adoption and use of health information technology. A link to the testimony can be found here. (The testimony is a reprise of CBO's recent health IT report, which I blogged about here).
In general, health IT can be an essential component of efforts to improve the efficiency of the health care system, but by itself is often not sufficient to reduce costs. Perhaps the most significant -- and most under-examined -- potential benefit of health IT is its complementarity with comparative effectiveness research. By making clinical data easier to collect and analyze, widespread use of health IT systems could support rigorous studies on the comparative effectiveness of different treatments; such systems then could facilitate a feedback loop to disseminate the outcome of these studies to providers. Such comparative effectiveness research could lead to reductions in overall health care spending, particularly when linked to financial incentives for providers.
To get to these outcomes, widespread adoption of health IT is necessary. Providing modest bonus payments to Medicare providers who adopt electronic health records could spur some increases in adoption; mandating their use as a condition of payment under Medicare would likely have an even larger effect.