- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 24, 2009

President Obama claimed Monday that spending taxpayer money on electronic health care records would save lives and dollars. But the only thing assured is high upfront costs. Establishing an integrated national health information system isn’t as easy or as beneficial as it sounds.

There is $36 billion from the stimulus package aimed at this effort. Despite the promise information technology holds for cutting down on unneeded procedures and helping avoid harmful drug interactions, it is far from a panacea.

Implementing computer record systems that work between doctors, hospitals and insurers has met with limited success. After decades of efforts, just 17 percent of U.S. physicians and 8 percent to 10 percent of hospitals have at least basic electronic health records systems, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.

Government can’t do any better than the private sector in expanding computerized patient records. For example, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs and the Department of Defense can’t effectively share medical records even though Congress mandated better sharing between the agencies back in 1992. Last year, Congress set a deadline of September 2009 for implementation, and there still is no single Defense-Veterans Affairs electronic record for delivering health care and benefits to members of our armed forces.

No matter, the Obama administration is devising standards and regulatory mandates to oversee record sharing among 5,708 hospitals nationwide. With more than 37 million patients admitted in those institutions in 2007 and just 213 of the hospitals being directly federally funded, the enormity and high cost of the challenge is heart-stopping.

The Obama administration points to a study sponsored by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society claiming the adoption of universal electronic health records could save $77 billion a year, but the Office of Management and Budget has questioned this number because of the complexity of implementing such a system.

The private sector is working to accelerate the computerization of medical records because it can improve efficiency and performance. In this case, what’s best for hospitals, doctors and insurers also is best for patients. Government should stay out of it.