A Missouri Health Policy expert is stressing the need for one of the Obama administration’s health care reforms.

The federal healthcare overhaul is a hot topic of debate, as Republicans in the U.S. House try to overturn it. But Nancie McAnaugh with the University of Missouri Center for Health Policy says the grant money to encourage health care providers to move to electronic medical records should be left alone.

“People ask, ‘Why should we move to electronic health records if health care reform is going to go away? What we really try to stress to them is these are really two different programs. I mean, the ‘Hi Tech Act’ was a federal law that was passed separately from health care reform. There’s been no conversation at all about repealing that act. When you go and look out there, everyone from Newt Gingrich to the RAND Corporation are talking about the fact that we really need to be moving to an electronic system. It just makes the most sense and it will, over time, improve quality and cost,” McAnaugh said.

McAnaugh says it can decrease costs for customers by eliminating possible duplication of testing. She says some examples of quality health care benefits are helping avoid inappropriate prescribing, and increasing communication between physicians.

“That will also, I think, increase the number of people who are going in for preventative activities. For example, right now I get e-mail reminders from my vet when I need to take my animals in for their regular check-ups. I don’t get that from my physician. I don’t get an e-mail saying, ‘Hey, it’s time for your mammogram.’ As busy as everyone is, it’s very easy to forget those things,” McAnaugh said.

She says there’s work to do in Missouri.

“It depends on what part of the state you’re in. A lot of larger systems already have electronic health record systems within their health care setting. But as you move to rural Missouri, critical access hospitals in particular, some of them are still working on a paper and pen method,” McAnaugh said.

She says one key to taking that technology to rural areas is the state’s effort to expand broadband internet access to 95% of Missourians over the next 5 years.

AUDIO: Ryan Famuliner reports [1 min MP3]