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updated 5/28/2004 2:40:02 PM ET 2004-05-28T18:40:02

Vanderbilt University is a "leading light" in the national movement to develop computerized patient records that will streamline hospital operations, lower costs and reduce the chance of medical mistakes, President Bush said Thursday.

Bush's comments came as he presided over a six-person panel at Vanderbilt where members discussed advances in information technology before a crowd of about 900.

"Medicine's changing, and it's changing for the better," Bush said. "We're here because this center of excellence is on the leading edge of change."

Bush got a chance to see the system at work prior to the panel appearance when he toured the Vanderbilt Children's Hospital.

Like the rest of the hospital campus, the recently-opened facility lets doctors, nurses and lab technicians access medical records from a computer _ instead of having to chase down a paper copy. Vanderbilt also uses computer databases to inform doctors about the best practices for treating patients.

Already, Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen has latched onto the system as a way to reform TennCare, the state's troubled health care program for the poor, disabled and otherwise uninsured.

Bredesen has said the system would be particularly useful for TennCare because so many of the program's patients "go to different doctors, who get care in emergency rooms without continuity of care."

Bush said Thursday his vision for the country is a computerized system of patient records that spans hospitals, pharmacies and other medical providers nationwide _ and he sees Vanderbilt as a model for that plan.

"One of the amazing discrepancies in American society is we're literally changing how medicine is delivered in incredibly positive ways, and docs are still spending a lot of time writing things down," he said.

"This hospital knows how to use information technology for the benefit of patients and docs. You're ahead of the country."

Vanderbilt was the first stop of the day for the president, who was to attend an evening fund-raiser at the home of Nashville businessman Clay Jackson. The money will go to the Victory 2004 campaign that doles out money for Republicans at all levels.

Randy Button, chairman of the state Democratic Party, said the president's visit to Vanderbilt was to "disguise" the true reason for his trip to Tennessee _ to raise campaign money.

"Instead of flying around the country at taxpayers' expense raising campaign funds, he should be doing something to fight the rising gas prices," Button said.

But Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who was among a half-dozen members of Congress in the audience for Bush's appearance, said the president's visit wasn't about politics.

"He's committed to health care, he's committed to information technology, he's committed to making others' lives more fulfilling," said Frist, a medical doctor by trade. "It takes presidential leadership to make our health care system more efficient. It is a high priority for him."

Frist said Bush's decision to visit Vanderbilt and Bredesen's plan to integrate the system into TennCare is proof of the key role the hospital plays nationally in health care advances.

"To have the governor of the state and the president of the United States both emphasize the importance to me _ as a physician who cares about health care _ means a great deal."

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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