As we know, the Federal Government is planning to spend $19 billion to help the healthcare system upgrade its 20th century, non-standard, paper-based and proprietary system-based health records systems to a more standardized, electronic solution which will empower the healthcare system and consumers alike. This may be a side benefit of electing our first Blackberry-toting commander-in-chief. But, it’s not clear that everyone is ready to get behind the President on this one.
The New York Times just published an article entitled “Doctors Raise Doubts on Digital Health Data”. The New England Journal of Medicine just published two articles outlining the challenges with making the electronic records dream a reality.
In a recent post on this blog entitled, “Better Records on Our Cars Than Ourselves“, we discussed the critical importance of better connecting consumers to the healthcare decision-making and delivery process. Without engaging consumers effectively, it will be difficult to drive meaningful changes in healthcare consumption, healthcare effectiveness and ultimately, healthcare cost.
While the recent flurry of media coverage on the subject of electronic health records points to many of the reasons why the Government’s plan cannot or will not succeed, let’s take a minute to focus on why it should succeed:
1. Health information belongs to the consumers whose health is in question. While the information may be generated by doctors and other members of the delivery system, it is generated on patients and generally paid for by the patients themselves or their insurers (private or government).
2. Patients can and should be able to access and share their health information. Is it really appropriate, as some have argued, for some doctors or other members of the delivery system to decide if we, as patients, are “qualified’ to have access to our own health information ?
3. Getting health records into a more standardized, usable and transferrable format will surely take time and cost a lot of money. One potential benefit of this investment of time and money may be a new partnership between those who deliver healthcare and those who consume heathcare. In an industry which is today characterized by battling between constituents over who gets what care and who pays for that care, a bit of partnership might go a long way. Cal it a pollyanna-ish view, but without a vision to make things better we are may well be destined to mediocrity.
Why not focus on what we can accomplish vs what we cannot ? Why not begin architecting a plan to migrate from reliance on proprietary systems and paper records to an open, electronic solution that brings healthcare information together vs keeping it in protected silos ?
In closing, as the New York Times and New England Journal articles discuss, it seems appropriate to debate how the new electronic information will be used to improve healthcare quality. But, this debate can proceed in parallel with an effort to make the information more readily available in the first place. Without substantive changes to how we collect, store and transfer health information, the healthcare quality debate may stay just that – a debate.
Doug Klinger serves on the board of MedCommons. Before joining MedCommons, spent ten years with CIGNA, where he served as CEO of CIGNA Dental, among other roles. His resume includes a stint with Monster.com, where he led the company’s North American unit.