NASHVILLE -- Squeezing a discussion of domestic policy into a schedule dominated by Iraq, President Bush promoted the computerization of medical records yesterday in a Southern state where polls show him slightly ahead of his Democratic rival.
Bush won Tennessee's 11 electoral votes in 2000, defeating Al Gore in his home state by nearly 4 percentage points. But the Democrat handily defeated Bush in the Nashville area, and the trip yesterday marked the second time this month that a member of Bush's team had visited the city.
National security adviser Condoleezza Rice addressed Vanderbilt University's Senior Class Day on May 13. Vice President Dick Cheney and Laura Bush attended fund-raisers in Tennessee in April that raised about $800,000. Bush split his time between raising $1.7 million for the Republican Party and touring the new Vanderbilt Children's Hospital, where he watched a doctor retrieve electronic medical records on a large, split-screen monitor.
Afterward, Bush promoted his goal of having health records available electronically in 10 years.
''One of the amazing discrepancies in American society today is we're literally changing how medicine is delivered in incredibly positive ways, and yet docs are still spending a lot of time writing things on paper -- and sometimes it's hard to read their handwriting," Bush told about 900 people in a university auditorium. ''Therefore, sometimes it's difficult to have the spread of accurate information so that doctors can make good decisions."
To help meet the goal, the government has hired a national health information technology coordinator, who is to report by July 20 on how to address the privacy and security needs of computerizing records.
The effort will also require standardizing the technology used by medical workers.
''I imagine they say, `Scrape your chin when you fell off the bicycle' the same in Tennessee as they do in Texas, though" Bush joked, referring to his weekend spill off a mountain bike at his Texas ranch.
Bush's 2005 budget proposal includes $100 million for demonstration projects to test the effectiveness of health information technology.
But the rival campaign of Senator John F. Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, argued that the money won't be enough to create electronic medical records for everyone, let alone to further modernize the health care system.
''Bush's rhetoric doesn't live up to reality," said Kerry spokesman Phil Singer.
Kerry's campaign said Bush is focusing on small issues at the expense of larger problems, such as skyrocketing health care costs and millions of people without health insurance.
Family health insurance premiums are up more than 40 percent in the past four years, and 3.7 million people have lost health coverage since Bush took office, the Kerry campaign has said, citing federal data and industry figures.
Bush said his administration is addressing problems with measures like drug discount cards, tax-free health savings accounts, and expanded federal support for community health centers with the goal of serving 16 million people.