Industry Needs To Lead E-Health Records Adoption

National adoption of electronic health records won't happen if left solely in the hands of government, said former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich during a morning keynote at a health-care conference sponsored by the Markle Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based foundation that encourages the use of technology in the areas of health care and national security.

Because legislation encouraging the adoption of electronic health records has yet to pass in both Senate and the House, most health-care institutions don't bother to make the switch, instead relying on paper files. According to the results of a survey of 34,490 group practices published in the September/October 2005 issue of policy journal Health Affairs, 75 percent of all practices relied on paper medical records filed in cabinets; only 14 percent maintained electronic health records in relational databases. And 42 percent had no plans of implementing an electronic health record system in the next two years.

In general, health-care institutions are reluctant to transform processes, which would in essence require data maintained in paper files to be manually entered into electronic systems. That data typically spans years and many institutions are not willing to dedicate the time, resources and dollars to such a task.

"This is not about the future; it's about adopting the present," Gingrich said, pointing to proven examples of technology serving consumer needs, such as Google, United Postal Service, Federal Express, and eBay. "The question is, 'How long [politicians] will be too dumb to get there.'"

Sponsored post

At times, though, the federal government does recognize the challenges associated with electronic health records and tries to offset the expense. In October, the Department of Health and Human Services awarded more than $22.3 million to 16 grantees to implement health IT systems. That's a step in the right direction, but until such grants are farther reaching and supported by mandates, health care may remain behind the technological curve.

To expedite adoption, health-care organizations can educate institutions about where they need to be, and VARs can provide the technology to make it happen. Specifically, Gingrich said, the private sector needs to communicate urgency to institutions, lay out the base of a model bill for Congress to follow, and create a permissive--not coercive--system.

"We are crazy if we don't set as a national goal all Americans having e-health records by December 2006," he said. "The longer we have paper records, the more people will die, the more money will be spent and the more vulnerable we will be. We need to make the rules of the game. I never ask anyone to trust Congress, but government has to catch up, and [industry] telling Congress what works and what doesn't is important."