The economic stimulus package winding its way through Congress includes $20 billion for health information technology, or health IT. The funding would boost the movement toward establishing an interoperable national system for exchanging electronic health records (EHRs) and is expected to increase the number of physicians who use electronic record systems in their practices. Currently, less than 20 percent do.
Corey Angst, a University of Notre Dame management professor and expert on health IT, says such a move will save money, promote wellness, and most importantly, save lives.
“Electronic health records provide the means for all of your information to be available to you and every physician or health care provider whom you wish to see it,”Angst said."This will not only reduce the likelihood of duplicate tests ñ which increase health-care costs needlessly ñ but also make medical error less likely.
“If a doctor can review your entire history of drug allergies or treatments by calling up your electronic record, there is less chance that a wrong prescription or some other error is made.”
Angst says that according to a 1999 study by the Institute of Medicine,“To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System,”between 44,000 and 98,000 Americans die each year due to avoidable medical errors.
Angst also points out the network effects of having an interoperable system.
“EHRs are somewhat like fax machines in that the true value comes from lots of people adopting the technology ñ a fax machine is of no value if only you own one,”he said.
“While there is some value in a single doctor having an EHR, the public or societal value is exponentially more when the vast majority has them.
“If all of this rich medical data is residing in databases that can be analyzed, it isn’t a stretch to think that researchers could be using the data to develop new drugs, identify outbreaks, search for geographic pockets of certain diseases, and even identify the best means of countering obesity or even the common cold.”
Many people are concerned that digitizing health records could result in loss of privacy,but Angst said that through education, most consumers will become more comfortable with electronic records.
“Digitizing scares almost everybody, but nothing is really changing in terms of information becoming less private or secure,”he said.“Paper records are potentially more of a security risk.”
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