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WASHINGTON -- The government should offer incentives for health care providers to adopt federally-approved computer networks and treatment practices, Sen. Mark R. Warner, D-Va., said Tuesday. 

Incentives should include reduced malpractice insurance premiums and tort reform, Warner said at the Federation of American Hospitals conference. 

Warner said the health care industry should set aside its current computer systems in favor of a nationwide health care computer network that would lead to improved patient care and communication among doctors. 

"This is an area where we must have the political will to set national standards -- and use incentives and strict timelines," Warner said. 

Medical providers who follow national care guidelines should also be relieved "from the burden of high medical malpractice costs," Warner said. He later said he expects to "get whacked" by fellow Democrats, who have balked at tort reform. 

"We must emphasize quality and value through a commitment to modernization," said Warner. The former cell phone executive compared health care technology to the early days of cell service, which he said could not have grown as it did without national standards. 

The health care industry largely agrees with Warner's approach, said Laurens Sartoris, president of the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association. The Richmond-based group represents 46 member health systems and hospitals throughout Virginia.

"He's absolutely right about the Tower of Babel" among the medical community, Sartoris said. "You lock into one vendor's system and it doesn't necessarily talk to another vendor's system," he said, and that creates a barrier to providing seamless coverage for patients.

Satoris said some hospital administrators may be concerned about being tied to national medical practice standards. 

"There still has to be enough flexibility for practitioners to push the envelope and to be able to go beyond today's standards," he said. 

Warner spent very little of his 23-minute speech on the White House's $600 billion health care plan and mentioned only briefly the importance of increasing coverage for uninsured or underinsured Americans. The White House budget proposal includes $19 billion for health information technology. 

Warner said he plans to work on health reform with the administration and the newly named nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. Warner said she is "a good friend." He does not plan to introduce his own health care bill.