Most businesses and individuals have come to the conclusion that the internet is not simply a passing fad. (This thing might actually catch on!) The one exception to that-your doctor’s office.

Last week, the New York Times reported that most doctors’ offices are not using electronic health records.  Instead, most offices rely on the ubiquitous paper records in manila folders that generally tower behind the receptionist.

The article was based on a New England Journal of Medicine report that found that less than nine percent of small doctors’ offices (which constitute the majority of doctors’ offices) use electronic health records.   Of the large offices, only half use electronic health records.

The report asserts that the benefits of electronic records are huge: fewer mistakes, lower costs, better preventative care, etc.  These benefits are especially true for records that can be connected across offices (so that Doctor A can see your history of treatment from Doctor B).

The reason behind the slow adoption of records is that doctors are not financially incentivized to implement the new systems; the doctors are the ones stuck footing the bill.  However, if more doctors began using electronic records, insurance companies would benefit from less administrative paper work and patients would benefit from greater care.  Unfortunately, the Medicare rates for reimbursing doctors does not adjust depending on the doctor’s record keeping method.

The law has a significant role in solving this problem. Recent amendments to the Stark Act allowed for hospitals to purchase some of the electronic equipment for physicians.  Previously, such purchases were prohibited.  Several bills have been floating around Capitol Hill that would help finance electronic health record adoption.   While the passage of such a bill would signal progress, such systems would create privacy concerns that current laws, including but not limited to HIPAA, do not fully address.

Until the federal government, the nation’s largest purchaser of healthcare, takes the steps necessary to both financially and legally encourage the adoption of electronic health records, your records will continue to look the same way they did in the 60′s- poor handwriting, missing papers, coffee stains, and all.

-Josh Rosenblatt

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