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Why Do Obama and Newt Gingrich Both Want $19 Billion for Health Technology?

Many politicians fall for the allure of simplistic technical solutions to a complex social problem. But technology is rarely the answer.

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But this will not happen without concerted and rapid action. What should labor be doing?

Workers need a place at the table . Health information technology policy and standards committees are established by the HITECH Act. Only one member of the Policy Committee is required to be "from a labor organization representing health care workers." Unions need to demand more.

Unions need to be ready, and they aren't . Unions are, in general, ill-prepared, to play a role in a giant tech change process. They are handcuffed by years of accepting "management rights" and hampered by a lack of practical experience in inserting workers' voice into technological decision-making. Unions need to quickly develop their capacity to bargain over tech change.

Funding is needed for training so that workers can be involved in developing and implementing tech change. Portions of the $19 billion should be set aside for unions to develop mechanisms for worker input.

Analysis of impact on the workforce must a part of all implementation. The Act currently includes no mandate to look at the impact of health information technology on the health care workforce, or even to listen to input from that workforce. Unions should be involved in gathering workers' voices for ongoing evaluation of the impact on workers.

Technologies should serve health care reform , not prop up the existing system. This is a time when sweeping reform of the health care system is presumably on the table. But new technologies that assume continuation of a profit-based, insurance-based system could be a conservative force. Electronic medical records, for example, are touted as a way to eliminate "paper-shufflers" and unwieldy administration -- ignoring the much more effective approach of eliminating insurance companies in favor of a single-payer plan.

We have a model for looking at the social impacts of new technologies. Over the last several years, the federal government has funded nanotechnology to the tune of $1.5 billion per year. Tens of millions of dollars have been set aside to examine the social impacts and societal implications of nanotechnology. Why isn't this happening with the electronic medical records initiative?

Newt Gingrich's involvement is especially ironic. His Center for Health Transformation has two "Hot Topics!!" on its website. The first is enthusiastic support for the HITECH Act's $19 billion for health care technology. The second is an attack on the Employee Free Choice Act.

Do we get the point?

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