Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Who really profits from digital medical records?

An unprecedented effort to computerize the nation's hospitals and physician offices could be the key to reducing crippling health care costs – or a giveaway to technology vendors whose sales will be subsidized by taxpayers.

Computerizing the paper-based world of medicine was a significant component of this year's $787 billion stimulus package, which reserved $45 billion for hospitals and physicians to adopt electronic health records.

The Obama administration argues that electronic records will allow doctors to coordinate care for the sickest patients, eliminate errors such as adverse drug reactions and avoid duplicate lab and imaging tests. Medical errors alone cost the country $37.6 billion each year, according to the Institute of Medicine.

Despite years of technology development, most hospitals and physician offices, including those in North Texas, can't electronically share information or even record patient data.

Data sharing confronts age-old assumptions that providers, not patients, own health records, which are valuable assets that can be used to obtain grants and market hospitals. It requires the government to decide what kinds of systems will improve care and how providers should use the systems to achieve that.

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