Government Pushes for Electronic Medical Records by 2014

October 01, 2009 02:00 PM
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
Through stimulus funding, the Obama administration is encouraging the adoption of e-health records by 2014, but programming issues and privacy concerns may be a stumbling block.

Medical Records to Go Digital

With more than $17 billion in stimulus funding, the government has been encouraging medical providers to adopt electronic medical records, “switching patient records from old paper files to sophisticated computer databases,” David Twiddy reports for The Associated Press.

The plan to reshape the nation’s medical system through the implementation of computerized medical records was part of a $838 billion stimulus bill approved by the Senate in February, Declan McCullagh reported for CNET News. These electronic records would “follow each American from birth to death,” and include information about each person’s race, ethnicity and medical history.

According to McCullagh, many physicians are already adopting electronic health records due to “market pressure, convenience, and efficiency.” But studies quoted by the AP reveal that less than 10 percent of health providers in the U.S. are currently using electronic medical records. As an incentive, the Obama administration declared that providers that haven’t adopted the new system by 2014 could be penalized by “cu[ts in] their Medicaid and Medicare payments,” Twiddy explains.

In order to receive the government funds, however, medical facilities must allow for “interoperability”—sharing records between providers and allowing them to be viewed anywhere within a network of integrated and compatible systems. Given that not all providers will use the same software, it is essential to ensure that records will be transferable and accessible from any system. According to the AP, instead of implementing a national system right away, the system would resemble a “network of networks” similar to the nationwide ATM network.

According to experts, however, there is an ongoing debate around the notion of interoperability among health providers that “could take well beyond the 2014 timeframe to be solved,” the AP notes.

Reactions: Privacy concerns

In his article for CNET News, Declan McCullagh notes that the notion of a computerized system for medical records might not be popular with everyone, and might come to jeopardize patients’ privacy. “[S]ome Americans may not want their medical histories electronically stored, shared, and searchable,” he notes. Similarly, Twila Brase, a registered nurse and head of the Citizens' Council on Health Care, argues that there should be “explicit informed consent before sensitive and confidential patient records are injected into a national database.”

At the same time, as the blog TresSugar points out, many worry that personal information, such as sexual health history, “could get in the hands of the wrong people.” According to Sen. Patrick Kennedy (D.-R.I.), however, it will be “up to the individual” to regulate the amount of personal information included in the database. Each person will have the ability to “stop doctors from including records of sexually transmitted diseases and abortions in the new national system of Electronic Health Records,” Nicholas Ballasy reports for

Related Topic: Automatic hospital check-in

Earlier this year, Springfield Clinic in Illinois implemented an automatic check-in system utilizing digital consoles that read a patient’s palm and pull up their health record. The consoles were a response to customer complaints about the slow and sometimes inefficient check-in process. As representatives for the console manufacturer explained, the device was designed to map the veins in a person’s palm, which are “virtually impossible to replicate.”

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