Fed's Digital Health Records Plans in Doubt

By Lawrence Walsh  |  Print this article Print


Desktop-as-a-Service Designed for Any Cloud ? Nutanix Frame

President Obama's plan to spend $19 billion on digitizing health care records has technology resellers and solution providers seeing profitable opportunities. But two reports in the New England Journal of Medicine question the wisdom of the federal government's plan.

Technology resellers and service provides say they’ve seen little slowdown in IT spending by health care institution, hospitals and clinics, according to the Channel Insider 2009 Market Pulse Report. And many solution providers servicing the health care market anticipate windfalls as the Obama administration plans to pump more than $19 billion to modernize health care systems and digitize patient records.

But two separate reports released this week say President Barack Obama’s IT health care vision may throw billions of good taxpayer dollars away on software and IT systems that will not result in any measureable benefit to health care delivery or patient care.

According to two reports in the respected New England Journal of Medicine, the digital health care records vision faces significant obstacles in technology limitations, adoption trends and productivity gains. The reports say that current health care software and technology is inadequate to the task envisioned by the federal government and that the use of the available systems does not met the expectations of sharing information across multiple domains.

One of the Journal’s articles reports than only 9 percent of nearly 3,000 surveyed U.S. hospitals are using electronic records systems. "We have a long way to go," said Dr. Ashish K. Jha, the article’s lead author and a Harvard School of Public Health professor. "We did not measure effective use. Even if a hospital does have electronic health records, it does not mean it is sharing information with other hospitals and doctors down the road."

Such survey results may signal opportunity for IT solution providers hungry for new customers and opportunities. However, the second Journal article by two physicians at Children’s Hospital Boston who are also experts in technology systems advocate against the Obama plan, calling it a "costly mistake."

The article’s authors, Dr. Kenneth D. Mandl and Dr. Isaac S. Kohane, describe the current state-of-the-art health care technology as "pre-Internet era" software that is based on "proprietary standards." Should government stimulus funding go toward supporting existing systems, Mandl and Kohane say it will be hard for health institutions to replace and innovate over inadequate and nonproductive systems.

Instead, Mandl and Kohane believe the government should use the stimulus money to support health care software and systems based on open standards and open to independent developers. In such a system, they say, developers will be able to meet the needs of the health care community and the community will be able to select the best applications.

Lawrence Walsh Lawrence Walsh is editor of Baseline magazine, overseeing print and online editorial content and the strategic direction of the publication. He is also a regular columnist for Ziff Davis Enterprise's Channel Insider. Mr. Walsh is well versed in IT technology and issues, and he is an expert in IT security technologies and policies, managed services, business intelligence software and IT reseller channels. An award-winning journalist, Mr. Walsh has served as editor of CMP Technology's VARBusiness and GovernmentVAR magazines, and TechTarget's Information Security magazine. He has written hundreds of articles, analyses and commentaries on the development of reseller businesses, the IT marketplace and managed services, as well as information security policy, strategy and technology. Prior to his magazine career, Mr. Walsh was a newspaper editor and reporter, having held editorial positions at the Boston Globe, MetroWest Daily News, Brockton Enterprise and Community Newspaper Company.

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