President-elect Obama has made health care reform a cornerstone of his economic recovery plan. Skyrocketing costs, it's argued, could be slowed if patients health records were kept in a centralized database, accessible over a network and easily read by authorized healthcare professionals. Cost-savings created by a reduction in the duplication of labor, as well as a reduction in misdiagnoses on the part of physicians caused partly by inaccurate information given them by patients and caregivers, make up the gist of some very persuasive arguments in favor of moving the United States into systemwide digital health records.
Taken at face value, the argument seems to make a lot of sense. After all, who among us wouldn't be happy, should we find ourselves in a hospital where survival depends upon speedy action and accurate information, to know that decisions are being made based upon our own accurate medical records and the comments made into those records by our own doctors? In times of great stress, when speed and accuracy are critical to success and survival, human error can easily tip the scales towards failure. Electronic medical records can stop those scales from tipping against us.
'But what about PRIVACY?' argue those on the other side of the issue. In a world where hackers of all nationalities and ages are tripping over each other in a rush to steal our credit information, doesn't it make sense that stealing our medical information might be worth a dollar or two to information thieves? Information is, after all, a currency of sorts. The privacy argument is valid and one that is being taken seriously by everyone involved.
Surely, with near bulletproof digital encryption algorithms freely available for the taking on the web, the companies creating software used to collect and store our medical records will be required to use government-grade encryption to safeguard that data. The real danger is, as always, not from the software, but from the people charged with guarding our safety and our information. Blackmail, greed, and carelessness are just some of the tools that thieves use in their quest to plunder information databases.
Privacy concerns notwithstanding, the United States is already moving into the realm of digital medical records with companies such as Wal-Mart taking the lead. Wal-Mart is participating in Dossia, a digital medical records project funded, in part, by Wal-Mart, Intel, AT&T, and Pitney Bowes. After a year-long pilot program, Wal-Mart is making Dossia available to its US staffers starting early this year.
Dossia is just one of many for-profit and not-for-profit organization gearing up to stake their claim in what will become a multi-billion dollar niche within the multi-billion dollar healthcare industry. The debate about whether or not electronic health records moves us forward in the right direction is certainly not over. As the president-elect moves forward with his plans, this debate will be played over millions of boardroom tables, not to mention kitchen tables, each and every day until some sort of consensus is reached.
As a caregiver, and as one who faces the annual sticker shock of rising healthcare premiums, I am in favor of nearly anything that has the potential to bring those costs back down to something approaching reasonable. We live in a country that has, without a doubt, the finest medical professionals and diagnostic technology known to man. But we also live in a country where fewer and fewer of its citizens are able to take advantage of that technology or those professionals because they either have no insurance or else have plans that do not cover the very procedures that might help to save their lives.
In light of the great numbers of workers that are now finding themselves out of work and without insurance options, if we, as a nation, continue down the path we are on, the glue that holds our society together, its people, will begin to disintegrate. With that in mind, I must admit that I find myself leaning in favor of electronic health records. Why not take a moment or two and share your own thoughts with our readers?
Published On: January 13, 2009