HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Akron Univ. School of Law

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Digital Medical Records

Business Week provides an overview of some of the discussions and debate taking place over digital medical records.  Here is a brief excerpt:

The high cost and questionable quality of products currently on the market are important reasons why barely 1 in 50 hospitals has a comprehensive electronic records system, according to a study published in March in the New England Journal of Medicine. Only 17% of physicians use any type of electronic records.  Hospitals and medical practices that plugged in early have experienced pricey setbacks and serious computer errors. Suddenly dumping more money on hospitals, which will then funnel the cash to tech vendors, won't necessarily improve the situation, say many doctors and administrators.

Studies have shown that some large networks, such as the Veterans Administration and the Kaiser Permanente system, based in Oakland, CA, have used electronic records to help cut costs and improve care. But so far there's little conclusive evidence that computerizing all of medicine will yield significant savings. And improvements to patient care may be modest. An analysis of four years of Medicare data published in March in the scholarly journal Health Affairs found only marginal improvement in patient safety due to electronic records—specifically, the avoidance of two infections a year at the average U.S. hospital. "Health IT's true value remains uncertain," wrote Stephen Parente and Jeffrey McCullough, researchers at the University of Minnesota.

Part of the problem stems from a fundamental tension. Info tech companies want to sell mass-produced software. But officials at large hospitals say such systems, once installed, require time-consuming and costly customization. The alterations often make it difficult for different hospitals and medical offices to share data—a key goal. Meantime, the health IT industry has successfully lobbied against government oversight. . . .

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