Health industry inches toward digitization
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Next to the global economy, overhauling the U.S. health care system dominated headlines in 2009. We'll leave the debate over a public option for others to tackle and instead focus on one of the major ways in which an overhauled health care system would affect the tech industry: digitizing health records.
At the close of 2008, an in-depth survey published by the New England Journal of Medicine found that only 4 percent of physicians have a fully functional electronic records system. The health care industry's enormous paper trail is notoriously expensive, inefficient, and outdated.
So in early 2009, the stimulus package enacted by Congress pushed for medical records to go electronic. Among the stated goals: "utilization of an electronic health record for each person in the United States by 2014." By 2015, government reimbursements to physicians who are not participating in the federal e-record effort will begin to decline.
Today, organizations such as Kaiser Permanente, which by early 2009 had already taken its 450 nationwide locations mostly paperless, remain anomalies. The Obama stimulus package committed $59 billion to revamping the health care industry, earmarking $19 billion for hospital technology efforts alone, but even that is considered little more than a down payment on the total cost to modernize a system that is extremely convoluted, not to mention critical to secure.
Another stimulus goal is to establish a uniform policy for health IT. Bill Mitchin, co-chair of a health policy collaborative called the Health Information Security and Privacy Collaboration, said, "At our very first meeting, we started talking about HIE (health information exchange), and we spent two and a half hours trying to decide if HIE is a noun or a verb. The answer is both."
Of course, tech giants are lining up for stimulus dollars, but will any of them get it right? President Obama says he supports an open-source system, while MSN moved forward with My Health Info and IBM partnered with Google Health, which uses software built partially on open-source standards.
At the CTIA Wireless 2009 trade show in Las Vegas, many companies talked about jumping on the stimulus gravy train. Wireless companies also flooded a health care technology trade show in Chicago the following week, saying that the most useful electronic records will be those that access data directly from diagnostic and monitoring devices wirelessly, so medical professionals won't have to commit valuable (read: expensive) time to entering data.
Of course, as the industry struggles to go digital, 2009 proved to be a year of tremendous innovation as well. The world of health-related mobile phone apps continues to expand, from scanning bar codes for health ratings and finding the best medicine in a pharmacy, to tracking swing flu outbreaks and carrying the entire Merck Manual on your iPhone.
And 2009 brought plenty of optimistic health news, such as the development of fun body monitoring devices; scientists further finessing the increasingly intricate movements that amputees can perform with prosthetic hands and fingers; the introduction of a bra that, when taken off, could save your life; and new research, however flimsy, that porn may not be so bad for you after all.
--by Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
iPhone app helps keep tabs of your health by setting weekly and long-term goals, as well as the capability to connect with your diet pals.
commentary A large chunk--about 140 pages of 800--of the Senate bill creates electronic health records for "each person in the United States by 2014," with no clear way to opt out.
Wireless industry is hoping it can reap the rewards of billions of dollars being spent on health care technology as part of the economic stimulus package.
Open source is starting to make inroads into health care IT, which is exactly what proprietary vendors like McKesson and Cerner don't want.
In a "war game" exercise, students at four top business schools predict bumps and consolidation on the path toward electronic health records.
Drive to digitize medical records could impact every American. What does that mean for your health care and privacy?
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