Connecting The Medical Dots

Congress is considering adding money for health information technology to January’s stimulus package.

Doing so could spur a critical mass of the nation’s doctors to finally enter the information age, but unless the funds are tied to standards for the interoperability of health IT systems, the expenditure could do more harm than good.

Before lawmakers act, they need to think: If stimulus money supports a proliferation of systems that can’t exchange information, we will only be replacing paper-based silos of medical information with more expensive, computer-based silos that are barely more useful. Critical information will remain trapped in proprietary systems, unable to get to where it’s needed.

Health IT systems produce value when they are interoperable. When they’re not, doctors who invest in electronic health records cannot share information with each other or add lab results to your file or send electronic prescriptions to your pharmacist. They would have to use handwritten prescriptions and paper files in addition to their electronic files.

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