Electronic health records, brought to you by Wal-Mart

The Australian government doesn’t appear keen on consumer-led e-health solutions such as Google Health or Microsoft Health Vault. Well, it could be worse: here’s an excerpt from The New York Times this week:

Wal-Mart Stores is striding into the market for electronic health records, seeking to bring the technology into the mainstream for physicians in small offices, where most of America’s doctors practice medicine.

“Wal-Mart’s move comes as the Obama administration is trying to jump-start the adoption of digital medical records with $19 billion of incentives in the economic stimulus package.

“The company plans to team its Sam’s Club division with Dell for computers and eClinicalWorks, a fast-growing private company, for software. Wal-Mart says its package deal of hardware, software, installation, maintenance and training will make the technology more accessible and affordable, undercutting rival health information technology suppliers by as much as half.

“’We’re a high-volume, low-cost company,’ said Marcus Osborne, senior director for health care business development at Wal-Mart. ‘And I would argue that mentality is sorely lacking in the health care industry.’

“The Sam’s Club offering, to be made available this spring, will be under $25,000 for the first physician in a practice, and about $10,000 for each additional doctor. After the installation and training, continuing annual costs for maintenance and support will be $4,000 to $6,500 a year, the company estimates.”

Read the whole story here

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Travelling down the health information highway

RJ Eskow has written a great article in the Huffington Post this week that explains in simple terms why electronic health records are a good thing. To wit:

“The digitizing of medical records could have a far more profound effect on health – and on our economy – than most people realize. The president said the recovery plan will ‘invest in electronic health records and new technology that will reduce errors, bring down costs, ensure privacy, and save lives.’ All that and much more is possible. With a new HHS Secretary and health czar, and a White House health care summit scheduled this week, this is the right time to act.

“‘Electronic health records’ don’t sound like a particularly exciting or innovative idea. But neither did ‘a network that could quickly reroute digital traffic around failed nodes’ in case of military attack, or ‘dynamic routing protocols to constantly adjust the flow of traffic’ between computers. Yet those were the modest original goals of ARPANET – which evolved into the Internet as we know it today.

“Paradoxically, computerizing the health system in this country could make it much more humane than it is today. But that calls for a broad vision of health IT as an ‘information highway’ that stores information, looks for problems, and eases the many routine interactions that make up the health system.”

The article concludes: “A comprehensive strategy should lay the foundation for a boom in private initiatives. If the Internet’s any example, people will meet these needs… and hundreds of others nobody’s thought of yet. That won’t just help us save money and improve healthcare. It could also create a new mini-boom in the technology and service sectors of our $2 trillion health economy.

“And that sounds a lot like a stimulus to me.”

Well said.

EHRs and investment deficit disorder

Just read a comprehensive, well-researched, thought-provoking article in the New York Times about the global economic crisis and the tasks facing Barack Obama as he tries to turn the US around. Smack dab in the middle of it was, of all things, a reference to electronic health records:

“One good way to understand the current growth slowdown is to think of the debt-fueled consumer-spending spree of the past 20 years as a symbol of an even larger problem. As a country we have been spending too much on the present and not enough on the future. We have been consuming rather than investing. We’re suffering from investment-deficit disorder.

“You can find examples of this disorder in just about any realm of American life. Walk into a doctor’s office and you will be asked to fill out a long form with the most basic kinds of information that you have provided dozens of times before. Walk into a doctor’s office in many other rich countries and that information — as well as your medical history — will be stored in computers. These electronic records not only reduce hassle; they also reduce medical errors. Americans cannot avail themselves of this innovation despite the fact that the United States spends far more on health care, per person, than any other country. We are spending our money to consume medical treatments, many of which have only marginal health benefits, rather than to invest it in ways that would eventually have far broader benefits.”

Sadly, Australia is not one of those “rich countries” referred to in the article; our progess toward implementing electronic health initiatives is far behind even the US…

There is also a discussion on how the US spends too much on medical treatments that don’t work particularly well (trouble ahead for the pharma industry). The whole article is well worth reading: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/01/magazine/01Economy-t.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all