Search behemoth Google is making its initial foray into the electronic medical records (EMR) business with the recent launch of Google Health. (Also see the FAQs). This service goes toe-to-toe with Microsoft's Health Vault in the race to become the web's dominant player. Some large health plans such as Kaiser Permananete have been rolling out EMR programs to members. And a single medical record digital system that was implemented by the military a year ago is improving care and eliciting favorable reviews from patients.
A single, portable, user-controlled medical record that is available online offers many potential benefits. People would have medical information such as diagnoses, lab reports, and prescriptions downloadable from providers in a single record that would be accessible anytime and anywhere. Single records will create efficiencies and eliminate duplications. Plus, a host of other user-controlled benefits would follow, such as medication management that would screen for potentially harmful interactions, an alert system for scheduling tests or screenings, and even device connections that would allow electronic readings of such things as blood pressure and sugar monitors. It would be much easier for consumers to manage their health care, particularly for complex conditions.
But there are impediments, a primary one being physician adoption. Fewer than one out of every five doctors are using computerized patient records, according to a recent report in the The New England Journal of Medicine (see NYT: Most Doctors Aren’t Using Electronic Health Records.) The study reports that the physicians who are using electronic records report many advantages: 82 percent said they improved the quality of clinical decisions, 86 percent said they helped in avoiding medication errors and 85 percent said they improved the delivery of preventative care. For those who haven't moved to computerized records, the initial cost and disatisfaction with available products were cited as barriers.
Among consumers, privacy is front and center as a barrier to adoption. Scare stories abound. Consumers fear medical record theft and fraud, data mining by insurers and providers, and leaks of sensitive medical data to inappropriate parties such as employers. Of course, such security breaches can happen offline, too, but the ability to search data adds an additional layer of concern. Consumers want legal protections, including the ability to control who sees what. Services like Google and HealthVault have plans to keep controls with the consumer, but the public may be skeptical given the many security breaches that have occurred with identity fraud. Problems or not, the trend is clear so keep alert for developments on this front. A new Medicare pilot program by Health and Human Services aims to offer physicians incentives that will lower the cost barrier and hasten adoption rates.