A recent video that appeared on YouTube asked: What if air travel worked like health care?
The hilarious answer (here) shows an imaginary traveler attempting to book a flight to Eugene, Oregon, on Air Health Care. Frustration mounts as he’s instead offered a flight to Chicago for $17,885, but only if he first faxes in his “complete flight history.”
There are plenty of reasons that health care isn’t as automated as airline reservations or check processing. Each person’s health situation is, if not unique, immensely personal. Would anyone want to book radiation treatment on a medical Orbitz?
Even so, automating the collection and processing of medical information is a huge opportunity for hospitals and software companies. The U.S. medical establishment has yet to universalize even simple look-ups, such as what drugs a patient is taking, and has only begun to harness such phenomena as cell-phone apps and Web 2.0 trends like crowdsourcing to improve health care.
The first step is to get the data digitized. That means doctors need to switch to electronic medical records (EMRs)—an electronic version of your paper medical record. In countries such as Denmark, nearly all physicians use EMRs already. In the U.S., uptake has lagged, but is now accelerating rapidly.
By 2014, EMRs—also known as EHRs, or electronic health records—should be nearly universal, according to the Obama administration, which in 2009 put in place the system of financial carrots and sticks that is fueling EMR adoption. The stick: any doctor that doesn’t use EMRs by 2015 will see his or her Medicare payments fall, first by 1 percent and then up to 5 percent. The carrot: more than $40,000 in incentive payments per doc who adopts EMRs.
Although the nearly $27 billion in incentives the government intends to dole out may sound rich, the stimulus looks a lot smaller when compared to the size of government health outlays.
The next step is for hospitals and doctors to share patient records electronically (instead of by fax), so that your health record can follow you everywhere and be accessible to you and your doctors via the Web. Such data-sharing is still incipient, but could grow extremely rapidly on the back of EMRs, as the data on the next page indicate.