Since 2009 the American taxpayer, according to Kaiser Health News/NPR/Montana Public Radio, has spent about $30 billion on the installation of electronic records systems in hospitals and doctors’ offices. However, right now the ability of the systems to converse with one another — so that patient records can be tracked from one facility to another — is at about a 2 or 3 on a scale of zero to 10, according to Robert Wachter, a hospitalist at UC San Francisco, and to technology entrepreneur Jonathan Bush.
Wachter has authored the upcoming The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype, and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Age, on information technology in health care.
Up until now, he says, there has been a financial disincentive for doctors and hospitals to share information. For example, if a doctor doesn’t have a patient’s record immediately available, the doctor may order a test that has already been done – and can bill for that test. Keeping EMRs [electronic Medical Records] from talking to each other also makes it easier to keep patients from taking their medical records — and their business — to a competing doctor.
Karen DeSalvo, the federal government’s health IT coordinator, is now working on standards for how to share digital information. 2015 might just be the time to move medicine more into the digital age. Wachter notes that as about a dollar of every $6 in the U.S. economy is spent on health care, a new IT boom in that sector means there are billions of dollars to be made.