3453105624_8a3807ba11It’s a problem as old as the system of medicine: everything written by a doctor seems to be purposefully illegible. And, according to one scholar studying American medical practices, there may be more truth to the old adage than you might think.

While many industries seem to have shifted from paper records to electronic records over a decade ago, some are notably behind the curve. In some cases, it makes sense; perhaps a small business or a microbusiness doesn’t think it can afford to assess the costs of switching, much less commit to a major format change for its records and the necessary re-training that may involve. However, Mike Masnick of TechDirt and Andy Kessler, author of The End of Medicine, argue that there is something particularly sinister behind the medical industry’s dragging-the-feet approach to the electronic switchover.

According to Kessler, part of the reason behind the resistance to change in the industry is that electronic records would make it much easier to discover the actual billing practices of many healthcare firms. Reports allege that there is considerable gamesmanship already involved in medical billing. For those of you lucky enough to have followed Klay v. Humana, you might have a bit of an insight into one of many questionable practices commonplace to the medical field–major healthcare companies underpay their covered doctors for services, so doctors charge for more services than they actually provide. However, Kessler argues that there’s much more than this one alleged practice to blame for the medical mess we’ve found ourselves in.

While the Obama administration’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 includes over 19 billion dollars for the digitization of healthcare records, hospitals have been reluctant to implement standard digital information storage. Kessler claims that extensive electronic recordkeeping will lead to the eventual discovery that keeping people sick, instead of preventing illness, is immensely profitable, creating major criticism and reform in the healthcare industry. His argument continues that, groups that stand to gain from these profits want to protect them–even by using outdated methods of recordkeeping that intentionally obscure important statistics about treatment.

Even more, Kessler’s allegations imply that maybe similar practices prevail in other types of businesses where money or unfair practices may be at play. What other types of businesses might be concerned about digitization? Easy searchability, easy accessability, easy transfer, and uncertain security all generate a great number of benefits and potential risks to the business owner.

Whatever the answer, one can only hope that businesses see the many upsides to a digital world and avoid the pitfalls of using outdated techniques in favor of modern methods that will save a great deal of time, money, and hassles in the long run.

Brian Van Wyk

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