NCPA Logo - National Center for Policy AnalysisApril 1, 2010

Although many proponents discuss the perceived benefits of health information technology (HIT), missing from the debate is an honest discussion of experiences with actual HIT systems, and the obstacles and pitfalls of poorly designed systems, according to a report by Devon Herrick, senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis, Linda Gorman, senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis and the Independence Institute, and John Goodman, president, CEO and Kellye Wright fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis. 

There are different forms of HIT — many of which are widespread in the United States.  Electronic medical records (EMRs) are often cited as the technology with the greatest potential to improve quality and reduce costs, but they are not in widespread use. 

Installing HIT systems in a physician’s office or hospital is much more complicated than installing software on a computer connected to the Internet: 

  • Privacy and security risks are a concern due to hackers, identity theft, unauthorized access and corruption (alteration) of patient data.
  • Although HIT systems may prevent common errors, they also have the potential to introduce new ones. For instance, overreliance on the accuracy of EMRs can lead to grievous errors if a patient record contains false information.
  • But the potential advantage of storing patient records electronically is that, in some cases, distance becomes irrelevant when consulting with a physician. In fact, many concierge and other cash-based physicians already use the telephone and e-mail to communicate with their patients.  

As part of its commitment to patient-centered, personalized care, Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) implemented a system of electronic medical records in March 2008.  CTCA believes there are four primary benefits of this system: 

  • There is better communication and collaboration across all clinical specialties.
  • Tests and treatments are scheduled faster.
  • Delivery of patient orders, recommendations and treatment plans is improved.
  • Turnaround for test results is faster. 

Many HIT proponents support government-imposed HIT, assuming that a plan devised by a few people at the top (such as government officials) will work, even though the plan may not be in the self-interest of those at the bottom (such as physicians) who are required to implement it.  This sort of mandate is especially unlikely to succeed if it provides no incentives for health care providers to adopt and properly use the technology.  

Source:  Devon M. Herrick, Linda Gorman and John C. Goodman, “Health Information Technology:  Benefits and Problems,” National Center for Policy Analysis, Policy Report  No. 327, April 1, 2010. 

For report: 

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