Bill Clinton backs electronic health records

Former U.S. president says EMR bill is 'number one thing that can be done to make system more efficient'

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton on Thursday advocated an electronic medical records (EMR) law and said blogs could aid the U.S. political process.

Clinton appeared along with former President George H.W. Bush, a frequent partner on the lecture circuit, in a joint keynote address to the CTIA Wireless trade show in Orlando. Both men praised the wireless industry for generating economic growth and bringing the world closer together. Bush, 82, described himself as a Research In Motion Ltd. BlackBerry addict.

Saying he was doomed to be the straight man for Bush, whom he unseated in the 1992 election, Clinton gave more serious commentary on information technology, which he said has the power to improve the lives of disadvantaged people around the world and in the U.S.

Electronic medical records could cut US$100 billion of administrative costs of the U.S. health-care system, on which Americans spend $800 billion per year, Clinton said, referring to a McKinsey & Co. study. An EMR bill backed in the U.S. Senate by his wife, Senator Hillary Clinton of New York, and former Republican Senate leader Bill Frist failed despite three years of bipartisan effort, Clinton said.

"That's the number-one thing that can be done right now to make the American health-care system more efficient and cut costs," Clinton said. For one thing, EMR would save the cost of patients recounting their medical history every time they change doctors, which can also introduce errors because they may misremember things, he said.

Wireless technology is aiding in efforts to raise people worldwide out of poverty, one of the causes Clinton has been supporting since leaving office in 2001, he said. For example, in a micro-loan program in Bangladesh, the fastest-growing category of loans are those to women who buy cell phones and sell minutes to people in their villages who call relatives overseas and keep in touch with local markets, Clinton said. The program has raised 58 percent of all borrowers above the international poverty line, he said.

And in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, the fastest-growing job is selling calling cards on the street, making young people into entrepreneurs and part of the economy, he said.

Blogs can play an important role in the media as the traditional media tries to cover an increasingly complex world with growing competitive pressures and fewer resources, Clinton said.

"Because they don't have to put out a newspaper or even put together a whole evening news show, these blog sites typically deal with one, or at most two, subjects a day, so they can do research and get the facts," Clinton said. "Technology needs to keep pushing this process of the public debate so that there will always be alternative channels."

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