September 23, 2004

Electronic Medical Records Are Taking Root Locally

Health Care By: ams

Laura Landro’s 9/22/2004 Wall Street Journal article, “Electronic Medical Records Are Taking Root Locally” (available to WSJ subscribers) talks about how

More than 100 state and local groups are moving quickly to establish their own networks in which various health-care providers can securely share patient information, aiming to cut down on medical errors and duplicated efforts…

The regional networks aim to get local providers to convert patients’ paper medical files to electronic records, and persuade doctors to exchange pertinent information with a patient’s other health-care providers. By using a single network, regional health groups say they can reduce medical mistakes, better track patients with chronic diseases such as diabetes, zip prescriptions electronically to pharmacies, and cut costs by eliminating duplicated lab tests and X-rays…

With no money or federal authority to mandate a national health-care network, regional networks are also emerging as the only solution to wiring up the country’s medical system. Creating a nationwide system for sharing medical records would cost billions of dollars, scaring off many legislators… because the U.S. has a highly fragmented private health-care system, ‘starting from the bottom and working up is the only viable approach,’ says Lewis Redd, who runs the health-care consulting practice for Capgemini.

The federal government’s role, he says, is to push for widespread adoption of a single technical standard that will let all the different medical records in the country eventually talk to each other and share data, all the while allowing access only to authorized users, to ensure privacy. Such technical standards already exist, and David Brailer, the U.S.’s health-information-technology czar, is in the process of deciding how best to endorse them and provide guidelines for their use.

As evidence mounts that easily-transferable electronic medical records reduce costs and errors, these grassroots regional efforts will build momentum.

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