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Friday, March 04, 2011

The High Cost of Ignorance

While we live in a time of great erudition with space travel, miracle drugs, artificial intelligence and all the rest, great gaps of ignorance remain.

The February 28, 2011 issue of The Boston Globe included an editorial decrying the “inoperability” among electronic medical records created at different locations and with different software. This results in different records being unable to communicate with each other, which, for example, prevents an emergency room doctor from electronically gathering all of the previously generated medical information that might be pertinent to the care of a particular patient.

The editorial claimed that “Had the betterment of public health been the primary goal, hospitals would have developed electronic record systems that produced easily transferable information.”

The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act provides several billion dollars to support the development of electronic medical records. The Globe editorial goes on to say that in the implementation of that Act, one of the first goals should be “….to make sure all hospitals across the nation can seamlessly read and transmit electronic medical records from and to any source.”

With all due respect, the authors of those remarks know not whereof they speak. It is as though they were writing about the accomplishments of the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk and insisting that the next set of aviation goals should include space travel.

There are an enormous number of things that have to happen before the stated goal of “operability” of electronic medical records can be reached. They include basic changes in the way health care is organized and managed – changes that will not come either easily or quickly.

Given the general level of ignorance in this area, it is unfortunate but likely that quite a few billions will be spent unnecessarily and unproductively along the way to the day of “operable” medical records when all of everyone’s medical information is available everywhere.

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