USA Today Examines Debate Sparked By Efforts To Shift to Health Care Information Technology
Supporters of a nationwide switch to health care information technology systems say the move would help reduce medical costs and errors and increase efficiency and the quality of care, but opponents say "the costly transformation could waste money" if providers do not use compatible systems that can share information, USA Today reports.
The Obama administration has set a goal for all physician offices and hospitals to have electronic health record systems in place by 2014, which it projects could reduce health expenditures by as much as $12 billion over 10 years, according to USA Today. The $787 billion economic stimulus package that President Obama signed into law in February includes $19 billion to expand the use of health IT through 2015. The provision includes incentive payments for physicians and hospitals that have adopted the technology.
Obama has said that nationwide adoption of health IT systems could "save billions of dollars and thousands of jobs." HHS Secretary-nominee and Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) has said that health IT is "one of the linchpins" of a health care system overhaul. Nick Papas, an HHS spokesperson, said, "We are confident that health IT will significantly bring down the cost of health care and benefit all Americans."
Studies in the New England Journal of Medicine have shown that the high cost to purchase and maintain health IT systems has resulted in slow adoption of the technology. A study released in March by Avalere Health found that it would cost about $124,000 for a single physician or small practice to upgrade to EHRs between 2011 and 2015 -- the period in which government incentives to adopt health IT are offered -- but that the incentives would total $44,000.
Privacy rights advocates also say that inadequate privacy protection regulations and standards place patients' health data at risk for unauthorized access. Ashley Katz of Patient Privacy Rights said that a lack of proper protections in health IT could be harmful to patients, adding that if they feel that their data is not adequately protected against access by employers, creditors and marketers, they might not be honest with their physicians about all their health conditions and behaviors. Katz said, "The more data you have out there, the more good things you can do," adding, "But also, the more bad things" (Hall, USA Today, 4/7).