[ Monday, August 21, 2006 ]


EMRs in the News: Here's an article in the NY Times about why electronic medical records won't bring cost savings. The funny thing about this article is that there's very little put into the privacy concerns. It's mainly about costs, with a long discussion of how EMRs make drug tracking easier, thereby making it easier to use generic drugs and save money. But ultimately, EMRs will probably not deliver appreciable cost savings.

For what it's worth, I tend to agree, and as is most often the case in healthcare, cost savings is the white whale: those who chase it generally come to no good end. I absolutely agree that market forces must play in the healthcare space, and think failing to take costs into account is perilous. I think we, as a society, must take cost into account when making a decision, even though it might result in someone dying earlier than they might otherwise. In other words, we as a society need to address the fact that if we spend "whatever it takes" to keep grandpa alive one more day, or one more month, that's money we won't have to spend on something else. The cost of a liver transplant for a 90-year-old could supply thousands of school lunches, fund drug intervention programs, etc.; you get the idea. And patients and their families are much more excited about spending whatever it takes when it's not their money they're spending. That's where accounting for costs must come in, and keeping market forces at play in the healthcare industry will help balance those costs and outcomes.

EMRs are good for improving care, partly be allowing better coordination and eliminating duplicative tests, partly by improving possible emergency care, and partly because of the potential for data mining to help improve public health overall. But EMRs will provide opportunities for more care, which will eat up any savings. But, that's OK, since if we're going to spend the same amount of money for more and better care, that's a good result.

Jeff [10:30 AM]

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