A Case Of Technophobia

by Patrick Appel

David Blumenthal explains why the health care industry hasn’t embraced digital medical records:

The reason why the medical profession has been so slow to adopt technology at the point of contact with patients is that there is an asymmetry of benefits. From the patient’s perspective, this is a no-brainer. The benefits are substantial. But from the provider’s perspective, there are substantial costs in setting up and using the systems.

Until now, providers haven’t recovered those costs, either in payment or in increased satisfaction, or in any other way. Ultimately, there are of course benefits to the professional as well. It’s beyond question that you become a better physician, a better nurse, a better manager when you have the digital data at your fingertips. But the costs are considerable, and they have fallen on people who have no economic incentive to make the transition. The benefits of a more efficient practice largely accrue to people paying the bills. The way economists would describe this is that the medical marketplace is broken.

Richard Gunderman provides another perspective:

[Dr. Paul] Weygandt [a VP at a medical communications firm] believes that contemporary medicine has allowed too many intermediaries—financing, technology, and the way practices are structured—to come between patients and doctors. Too much time is focused on generating revenue rather than quality. Too many technological systems are built in ways that make sense to computer engineers but not to doctors. And too much time is spent pointing and clicking rather than capturing the essence of a patient’s story.

What can be done? Weygandt argues that doctors need to play a more active role in all aspects of healthcare’s future, not just implementing but also designing it. Too often, such decisions are currently being made by people who do not take care of patients, and in many cases, have never cared for patients.