Electronic Medical Records May Offer a Partial Solution in Health Care

Published September 1, 2007

Paper Kills–Transforming Health and Healthcare with Information Technology
David Merritt, editor
Center for Health Transformation, 2007
150 pages, paperback ISBN: 9781933966021, $19.95

The Center for Health Transformation (CHT) was founded by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich as a health care think tank and research center. CHT members and supporters include hospital and medical associations, large corporations, insurance companies and trade groups, and the College of Health Information Management Executives. All these entities have an interest in electronic medical records (EMRs).

The organization’s new book, Paper Kills, presents a series of chapters written by experts on information technology developments in health care. Gingrich introduces the book by asserting EMRs will repair a broken health care system and eliminate errors in health care.

In the following 10 chapters, expert authors discuss the problems and opportunities of EMRs and digital health care information.

Gingrich’s associates at CHT are strong advocates of digital health record-keeping systems.

Expensive System

Good examples of positive effects EMRs may generate are the personal health record, leveraging information data to improve disease management, monitoring and promoting best practice guideline performance for providers of health care, and the benefits of health research with aggregated data.

Early chapters discuss the problem of privacy in a system that shares data and the difficulties involved in making computers communicate with one another.

As a civilian contractor with the U.S. Department of Defense, I have an interest in EMRs. In the real world, computers are not always the answer and are sometimes a problem. EMRs can be clumsy, inefficient, and frustrating–and they are always expensive. Several major EMR projects in hospitals and clinics nationwide have fallen on hard times, and some have been expensive failures.

Government Interests

Policymakers in Washington, DC are pushing EMRs. Congress has instructed Medicare and Medicaid administrators to promote EMRs in 2007 and beyond. Patient safety and medical-quality gurus are convinced EMRs are the answer to current problems. Computer companies no doubt agree.

“Consensus” in policy offices and administrative suites across the country justifies this book, which is timely in concept and content, but perhaps overlooks some of the costs, problems, and limitations.

The authors fail to mention that Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama and others are making unrealistic claims about the savings EMRs will produce and are proposing to use those predicted savings to finance huge expansions in government entitlement programs. That’s a form of political pandering that is encouraged by overly optimistic books such as this one.

John Dale Dunn, M.D., J.D. ([email protected]) is a member of the Science and Policy Advisory Board for the American Council on Science and Health and teaches emergency medicine at C.R. Darnall Army Medical Center in Fort Hood, Texas.