Along with stimulus money and health care reform, the Obama Administration is also pushing health care organizations into the digital age with incentives for adopting electronic medical records systems. Electronic medical records will increase efficiency and lead to a higher quality of health care, advocates say.
In the past, whenever I read about a "higher quality of care," I assumed that the level of care would necessarily improve as physicians and hospitals and other providers had faster access to more of a particular patient's records. Electronic records can be more easily shared than paper records -- in theory at least. So when I saw The New York Times reporting that, in addition to the federal incentives, North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System is offering up to $40,000 each to health care providers that not only implement an EMR system, but also share their data, I assumed it was about the faster exchange of information between organizations.
But you know what they say about assuming.
Yes, North Shore wants to reduce unnecessary tests and coordinate patient care, but the organization also wants to study the collected data to determine which treatment plans are more effective. Writer Steve Lohr explains:
[T]he subsidy will rise to 85 percent of the total costs of digital records for physicians who agree to share data - stripped of personal identifiers - on patient measures that include glucose levels for people with diabetes and post-operative procedures and prescriptions for heart patients. That could help North Shore amass an ever-growing database of evidence indicating which treatments and procedures yield the best medical results.
Those treatments would then become best practices, according to North Shore CEO Michael Dowling. He told the Times, "We should be held accountable for outcomes - not just measured on the number of procedures performed."