For proposed healthcare reform to save lives, improve access, and contain costs, technology must play a central role. While a smart, universal system for electronic medical records is certainly a significant part of the package, the question is will we have to sacrifice our privacy to attain these lofty goals? According to former Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, “A key part of health care reform involves the use of technology to address a number of issues such as access, value, and cost.”
What is the electronic medical record system all about? An electronic medical record is a portable, digital version of the current paper file system that will be open for all doctors to access. That means that whenever you visit a new physician, you no longer have to fill out numerous forms, as your doctor would have access to everything about you on the computer. The ability to make diagnoses is based more on medical records and patient history than exams and blood work. Access to your lifelong medical history can assure that fewer mistakes will be made and the diagnosis is more accurate. Clinical associate professor of internal medicine Marie Savard, MD, says “an electronic medical record is only as good as its availability. All these benefits are only possible if the information is in an open network and everyone with permission has unfettered access.” Andrew Rubin, VP for NYU Medical Center Clinical Affairs and Affiliates in NYC agrees with this sentiment, saying “we need to be able to implement an electronic medical record where physicians can communicate back and forth and share critical information on tests done and previous diagnoses, so that everyone involved has the patient’s medical history at their fingertips. Rubin claims that this will ultimately save money by lowering unnecessary repeat tests and the time it takes to make a diagnosis. However, it opens a new can of worms with the issue of privacy.
It’s one thing for your financial information to be available online, but your health information is another situation altogether. Many people really hold fears of what could happen if their medical information fell into the wrong hands. The barriers of electronic medical records are just as real as the benefits. According to C. Martin Harris, MD, chief information officer of the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, the fear factor when it comes to EMRs is two-fold: confidentiality and general Internet security.
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While privacy is considered one major barrier, cost is the other. There has been an estimate that it could cost anywhere between $20 million and $200 per hospital over a period of several years to implement these systems. For one doctor’s office the cost would be $50,000. Less than 10% of U.S. hospitals are using a basic form of electronic medical records. There are other studies that estimate that the overall cost would be $75 billion to $100 billion over 10 years. Technology has and continues to bring breakthroughs in the world of healthcare, but even with the power of technology comes barriers and they must be considered and addressed.