May 20, 2012

Australia Ends $500 Million Electronic Medical Records Initiative

First United Kingdom ends their $17 billion electronic medical records initiative in 2011 and now Australia follows suit after 6 years of trying to fund their HealthSMART health information technology project and projected costs went from $318 million to $557 million.

This Australian project was to have provided hospitals with software from Cerner, iSoft (now CSC) and InterSystems... the same system which also failed to be implemented by United Kingdom.

I said it before and I'll say it again... I'm not surprised.

And I would wager that the United State's own electronic medical records initiative HITECH signed into law in 2009 by President Obama will also fail similarly though perhaps not as spectacularly.

It's hard enough to get a group of doctors in one hospital to agree with a treatment plan let alone agree to a medical records system. The problem is exponentially more difficult when applying it to an entire country.

Physicians practice medicine differently... just like teachers have their own unique way of teaching kids. A method that may work for one doctor or teacher will not work for another. Even the method may change depending on how "busy" things are (teacher with a class of 5 kids versus 30 kids) so a doctor in a busy inner-city emergency room will have different flows and needs from an electronic medical records than a rural family practice with a sedate pace. Furthermore, the needs of a dermatologist is very different from a pediatrician. One can't expect a single EMR system to meet the needs of both perfectly just like one cannot expect a math teacher to use the same teaching methods as a singing teacher.

Forcing physicians to use a single standard electronic medical records without adapting to these realities is bound to fail no matter how much time, training, software, and hardware you throw at it.

A better alternative (my opinion), is to treat electronic medical records like the computers they reside on. There should be many different types of EMR systems just like there are MANY different types of computer models, speeds, makes, cost, sizes, etc.

However, unlike current EMR systems, in spite of who makes a computer and what operating system software it runs, it has standardized components... USB, Firewire, HDMI, VGA, BlueTooth, etc. as well as a universal communication medium called the "internet" that works with phones, computers, laptops, etc regardless of who makes it and what software it is on.

You would think that an EMR system given its digital essence would be able to easily communicate with other systems... but no... they don't communicate at all... which is why paper reports still exist... which are than scanned into the EMR.

Rather than the government (whether the United Kingdom, Australia, or the United States) dictating what physicians must do and mandating EMR initiatives, I believe the money would be much better spent on mandating inter-operability and communication standards. The free market will create the best EMR systems and physicians will pick the one that best meets their need.

The other more insidious side of EMR is the over-reaching health goal mandates which means well, but runs into the same problem of applying standards to all physicians. Take "meaningful use" set by the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). One of the core measures of meaningful use is adult weight-screening and follow-up.

Now as an ENT specialist, I see patients specifically for earwax. Why in the world would I want to perform a weight-screening when all I want to do (and what the patient only wants me to do) is get earwax out???

Makes no sense.

Does it to you???

Government dumps hospital IT system. ABC News 5/18/12
Victoria kills HealthSMART IT project. IT News. 5/18/12
Fauquier blog
Fauquier ENT

Dr. Christopher Chang is a private practice otolaryngology, head & neck surgeon specializing in the treatment of problems related to the ear, nose, and throat. Located in Warrenton, VA about 45 minutes west of Washington DC, he also provides inhalant allergy testing/treatment, hearing tests, and dispenses hearing aids.

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