A central component of President Obama’s health policy is investment in electronic health records so all medical records are digitized within five years. This will include plans to strengthen the security and privacy governance arrangements for health information currently in place, ensure that health information cannot be sold or passed on without patient consent, and increase the range of penalties for those who do not protect health data appropriately. Many are already calling for serious reconsideration of introducing a national patient identifier for healthcare as part of this initiative. The President’s healthcare initiative is essential to move the American healthcare system of care into the Information Age, and has the potential to dramatically improve the way all Americans are treated whether they are in or out of hospital for years to come.
It is important to look at the many positive reasons why the introduction of electronic health records is so important for Americans, and not get lost in detailed technical or philosophical debates, as tends to often be the case around this topic. There are seven areas of major gain for Americans with the introduction of a national electronic health record system:
1. We are in the Information Age, and healthcare, which is an Information Industry, needs to be modernized just like the banking, communications and media industries, and made more efficient, through the more effective use of health information. Numerous studies have demonstrated how electronic health records both reduce medical errors, and increase overall quality of care.
2.The Internet and its associated multimedia environments are here to stay. Their existence will facilitate the development of an entirely new information infrastructure for healthcare, incorporating electronic health records, and numerous other multimedia environments and analytic tools. Investments in health are likely to continuously move away from bricks and mortar to bits and bytes, and the Obama plans will kick start this approach.
3. Health consumers have already taken to using the Internet for healthcare. 10 million Americans search online for health information about themselves or a loved one every single day – a total of 140 million Americans have already undertaken such searches. People trust their doctors and like to discuss information they have found on the internet with them. Most health consumers assume that much of their health information is already electronic and are increasingly accustomed to the idea of their personal information being maintained online. Major companies, such as Google and Microsoft, have illustrated this change in attitude by introducing their own personal health record systems.
4. A well introduced national health electronic information infrastructure will lead to better security and privacy than we have with our current paper records. Our present records have minimal capacity to be audited for inappropriate access by those who should not be seeing them, and are probably accessed much more than we realize.
5. Electronic health records will allow us to leverage new technologies such as virtual reality environments, telemedicine programs, multimedia applications, genetic databases and increasingly sophisticated search and decision support tools. We currently only use these tools sporadically, but in future, as we move to an increasingly personalized consumer focussed health system, they will be used routinely.
6. With the simultaneous move to some kind a national health insurance initiative, another goal of President Obama, the existence of electronic health records is simply essential to be able to provide care to the current 47 million Americans who are estimated to be uninsured.
7. Among the most essential solutions to the American healthcare crisis is the need to promote and enhance disease prevention, health promotion and chronic disease management. These approaches to care are much more effective if good quality information on both individuals and communities is already available electronically.
The need for national electronic health records is essential to allow us to improve the American healthcare system, and to make our healthcare services more personalized and consumer focused as we move increasingly into delivering healthcare in today’s information age. We need to support President Obama in this important initiative.