The EHR debate: fighting the last war?

Right now there’s a fierce debate going on for the hearts and minds of health IT. Finally American health care (well half of it anyway) is using electronic medical records. But it’s not the panacea we were lead to believe. Costs haven’t gone down, health hasn’t markedly improved and the taxpayer/Chinese government is poorer. So too are many doctors and hospitals, and the main beneficiaries appear to be construction companies in Madison, Wisconsin. Worse, those who promote the impact and importance of EMRs (Farzad MostashariAshish Jha) are being attacked by Ross Koppel, Steve SoumeraiScott SIlverstein and others who essentially say that EMRs are more dangerous and inefficient than paper.

This reminds me of the World War One British Army preparing to fight in the mud of Flanders with cavalry charges suited to the Boer War, the French Army in 1939 retreating to their WWI style trenches while the Germans flew over them, and (dare I say it) today’s TSA strip searching grandmothers looking for Boxcutters. Yes we’re having the wrong fight by focusing on old problems. The EMRs that are producing the studies we’re fighting about are the current equivalent of 1990s EPR implementations. In general they’re hard to use and require lots of money and training to produce halfway decent results. The real improvements from IT came when user-centered tools came to consumers and then to business with Web 2.0 and new devices like the iPhone.

It may take months of training on Epic or Cerner to get a doctor or nurse to be three-quarters as productive as they used to be, but my two year old daughter can fire up an iPad and play games and watch videos with no training. What we’re seeing every day at Health 2.0 is a whole new generation of data-driven applications and devices that are going to make the health care user experience much more like the one my daughter has. When we get there, the real improvements in both productivity and safety, as well as in quality and even cost, will emerge and we’ll wonder why we ever were having this fight.

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