|Dr. David Blumenthal has been named the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology as part of the economic stimulus package allocating more than $20 billion for a massive move to electronic medical records (EMRs). Dr. Blumenthal recently published a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine noting, as he starts his Washington job, that the program faces “huge challenges.” Dr. Blumenthal cites low EMR adoption rates (only 9% of hospitals now use them), high costs, technical complexities, and the very real concerns of both practitioners and consumers about privacy.
Dale Sanders, chief information officer for a group of more than 600 physicians associated with Northwestern University, says, “They [EMR systems] do far more good than harm, but we can’t sit here and blindly believe they are error-free.” While Sanders and other argue than electronic medical systems are “essential to containing costs and improving the quality of healthcare,” there is no guarantee that such systems will reduce wasteful spending. In a Wall Street Journal article, Dr. Jerome Groopman of Harvard called the push to electronic medical records “an $80 billion exaggeration.” In his JAMA article, Dr. Blumenthal wrote, “We need to ensure that physicians can actually use it.” Our government is laying out $19 billion, and there is a real possibility that the system will not be usable by the healthcare practitioner.
Even if it is usable, will government misuse it by trying to regulate how doctors practice? Even more distressingly, the system may put the personal medical records of consumers at risk of violation of privacy. As we mentioned last week, the privacy of your medical records is an important issue for each of us. Read the text of the proposal at the FTC website, then file your public comments by going to https://secure.commentworks.com/ftc-healthbreachnotification and following the instructions at that site. Let the FTC know that you want the ability to opt out of the system, and that you want to make protections as comprehensive as possible.