Mendoza School of Business

Electronic records save money, lives

Published: March 2, 2009 / Author: Mendoza College

Supporters of electronic health records say that such systems save money and lives.

They explain that switching to this system — which would allow doctors to order tests, send prescriptions and keep track of a patient’s medical history — would cut waste, decrease the need to repeat expensive medical tests and reduce the number of preventable medical errors that are all too common in the health care system.

Local hospitals and clinics have made significant steps in this direction, including Memorial Hospital and the South Bend Clinic. The new Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center, when it opens later this year in Mishawaka, will be paperless, allowing information about patients to be moved around more efficiently.

Among the most well-known supporters of health information technology are President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush, who, in 2004, proclaimed that we would have electronic medical records for most Americans within a decade.

In a speech last month, Obama said the government will push for electronic health records for all Americans within five years. The stimulus bill that he signed last week puts money toward that effort, providing $19 billion to help health providers adopt electronic medical records systems.

Given that cost is a major barrier to attaining a universal system — for physicians the bill for such a system in their offices could be tens and thousands of dollars, not including maintenance fees — that’s a good first step. Currently, less than 20 percent of physicians use electronic record systems in their practices, according to an article last year in the New England Journal of Medicine.

But there are other concerns, namely, about privacy and security. Critics point out that The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, the law that addresses patient privacy, says nothing about Web data handling and patient privacy.

University of Notre Dame management professor and health information technology expert Corey Angst takes another view of the privacy issue, arguing that information isn’t becoming less private or secure with electronic records. And in his view, paper records are potentially more of a
security risk.

We think privacy concerns should be taken seriously and addressed, just as with other sensitive information on the Web. However, the potential benefits of converting to electronic health records — benefits that can be measured in dollars and cents, but more significantly, in human lives — are too great to ignore.



Topics: Mendoza