January 06, 2010 13:18 ET

VHA Inc. and 12 of the Nation's Largest Health Care Systems Call for Government to Mandate GS1 Data Standards to Improve Health Care

Coupling Supply Chain Data Standardization With Electronic Medical Records Can Drive Both Operational and Clinical Efficiencies to Reduce Waste and Improve Safety

IRVING, TX--(Marketwire - January 6, 2010) - VHA Inc., the national health care network, and 12 of its largest member organizations, say the federal government should emphasize implementing GS1 data standards while they promote electronic medical records (EMRs), since both improve operational efficiencies and reduce health care costs; however, adopting data standards for supply chain transactions would cost far less to advance.

"Our position is that the adoption of GS1 standards should be an important target in the government's quest to drive health care efficiency; therefore, we believe it is worthy of financial support from the existing unspent stimulus money that has been designated for IT investment in health care," said Mike Duke, senior director of supply chain networks at VHA. "With a very small investment, the government could enable the industry to support education and communication efforts related to standards adoption. The cost would be minimal compared to the value. These efforts would help the industry tackle the billions of dollars that are wasted in health care annually as a result of the lack of data standards in the supply chain arena."

Other industries, such as the retail industry, have sophisticated supply chain management systems that incorporate data standards, and the standards enable more efficient and effective flow of information and materials. Health care is severely lagging behind and needs a more unified system to track supplies. For providers, supply costs are, on average, 25 percent of the cost of care, and even more for many surgical procedures, and have been accelerating at a rapid pace. By adopting GS1 standards, there can be less confusion in ordering, shipping and pricing creating more efficient connections and systems within individual hospitals and across the industry.

"We're urging the administration, through the FDA and other channels, to mandate adoption of GS1 standards," said Joseph Dudas, director of accounting and supply chain informatics, Mayo Clinic, a VHA member. "This would accelerate implementation via prioritized support of the standards, energizing the industry's focus on GS1, just as the government has done for electronic medical records. If the government would demonstrate more aggressive support for GS1 standards, manufacturers and hospitals could move more confidently and swiftly to make changes in their operations and information systems to prepare to use and implement them."

The 12 VHA members that are focusing on promoting GS1 with VHA represent billions of dollars in annual supply purchases. They are standing behind VHA's call for the government to financially support health care industry efforts to push GS1 standards. The members are:

--  Allina Hospitals & Clinics, Minneapolis
--  Baptist Memorial Health Care, Memphis, Tenn.
--  BJC HealthCare, St. Louis
--  Cedars-Sinai Health System, Los Angeles
--  Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.
--  MedStar Health Inc., Baltimore/Washington, D.C.
--  Memorial Hermann Healthcare System, Houston
--  Novant Health, Charlotte, N.C.
--  Providence Health and Services, Seattle
--  Sentara Healthcare, Norfolk, Va.
--  Spectrum Health, Grand Rapids, Mich.
--  Yale New Haven Health Services Corp., New Haven, Conn.

All of these organizations belong to VHA's Large IDN Supply Network (LISN), a select group of VHA members that work with VHA on key supply chain initiatives.

EMRs help health care providers avoid medical errors, improve the quality of patient care, and generate cost savings by making all relevant medical history on each patient readily available to their clinical caregivers eliminating duplicate and unnecessary testing and procedures.

While the focus of many policymakers, consumers and health care leaders is on accelerating the adoption of EMRs, there is a promising opportunity to further improve their impact and the benefit to the health care system through supporting a standard unification of data to the GS1 standards, according to Duke.

VHA and the large health systems in LISN believe that the implementation of GS1 standards through the adoption of unambiguous, universal identifiers of medications, implantables, and other sensitive materials used in treatment episodes can help to drive not only clinical, but also operational efficiencies and hold the promise of enormous cost savings.

"Rightly or wrongly, people are arguing about the financial benefits of implementing EMRs, even though cost reduction shouldn't be a primary rationale for implementing systems," said Duke. "There is however, no argument about the financial benefits of GS1 data standards and, as the momentum for EMRs continues, full implementation of these data standards would provide the needed foundation for reliable and interoperable material aspects of EMRs. These standards and others will drive the efficiency that we are desperate for in health care."

About VHA

VHA Inc., based in Irving, Texas, is a national network of not-for-profit health care organizations that work together to drive maximum savings in the supply chain arena, set new levels of clinical performance, and identify and implement best practices to improve operational efficiency and clinical outcomes. Formed in 1977, VHA serves more than 1,400 hospitals and more than 24,000 non-acute care providers nationwide.

Contact Information