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CJR examines potential, weaknesses of health IT

In the Columbia Journalism Review, Trudy Lieberman, president of AHCJ’s board of directors, sought to shed light on the nebulous promise of health information technology by interviewing Jonathan Oberlander, a health policy expert and professor of social medicine and health policy & management at the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill.health-info-tech

Focusing on the example of electronic medical records, Oberlander said only a small percentage of hospitals had adopted electronic medical records, primarily due to their prohibitive cost. Stimulus money, $19 billion of it, has been directed toward the problem, though the language — hospitals and practices should adopt “meaningful” information technology is vague — and payments won’t arrive until next year, at the earliest.

According to Oberlander, patients may not even benefit from all the money being thrown at health technology (and thus to hospitals and tech firms) unless it’s implemented properly. Likewise, Oberlander says, even widespread adoption of EMRs and other health IT likely won’t lead to substantial cost reductions.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the HIT provisions of the stimulus legislation could reduce federal spending on health care benefits by about $13 billion over the next decade. But the program will cost about $32 billion to implement in Medicare and Medicaid, so spending on HIT will increase the deficit by $19 billion or so during that decade.

Oberlander calls health IT “overhyped” because it’s such a politically attractive and relatively painless solution, and warns that, in the end, we can’t simply “compute our way out of the health care cost problem.”

He called for a more integrated national health IT system and said journalists should focus more attention on exactly who stands to profit from all the money being poured into the arena.

(Image by southerntabitha via Flickr)