More headaches for Mr. Obama’s EMR plan

Robert Pear writing in The New York Times:

In a speech outlining his economic recovery plan, Mr. Obama said, “We will make the immediate investments necessary to ensure that within five years all of America’s medical records are computerized.” Digital medical records could prevent medical errors, save lives and create hundreds of thousands of jobs, Mr. Obama has said.

So far, the only jobs created have been for a small army of lobbyists trying to secure money for health information technology.

Consumer groups and some members of Congress insist that the new spending must be accompanied by stronger privacy protections in an era when digital data can be sent around the world or posted on the Web with the click of a mouse.

In the last few years, personal health information on hundreds of thousands of people has been compromised because of security lapses at hospitals, insurance companies and government agencies. These breaches occurred despite federal privacy rules issued under a 1996 law. Congress is trying to strengthen those privacy protections and make sure they apply to computer records. Lobbyists for insurers, drug benefit managers and others in the health industry are mobilizing a campaign to persuade Congress that overly stringent privacy protections would frustrate the potential benefits of digital records.

The data in medical records has great potential commercial value. Several companies, for example, buy and sell huge amounts of data on the prescribing habits of doctors, and the information has proved invaluable to pharmaceutical sales representatives.

“Health I.T. without privacy is an excellent way for companies to establish a gold mine of information that can be used to increase profits, promote expensive drugs, cherry-pick patients who are cheaper to insure and market directly to consumers,” said Dr. Deborah C. Peel, coordinator of the Coalition for Patient Privacy, which includes the American Civil Liberties Union among its members.

Get ready for these and other kinds of problems if we go through with this.  If you throw enough money at an immature technology you can always accomplish something, but don’t bet on it being what you originally set out to accomplish.  We did that with space technology in the 1960s.  The result was not cheap and reliable access to space for the average person.  The result was a half-dozen very expensive flags-and-footprints missions to the Moon.  Since then, we haven’t been backto the Moon, haven’t made space travel a practical reality and have seen two space shuttle crews killed in accidents.

EMR technology is not ready for prime time yet.  Don’t forget futurist Paul Saffo‘s admonition about mistaking a clear view for a short distance.

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