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David Blumenthal: "You'll get better care" with electronic health records

Why has it taken the health-care system so long to catch up with the rest of the business world in using technology to improve the consumer interface? When you think about it, it's odd, isn't it? (For instance, barcode scanners were introduced to the grocery store by Kroger in the 1970s.) David Blumenthal, MD, the Obama Administration's health information technology guru, has a simple answer for the delay: "The money doesn't drop to the bottom line the way it does in a business setting."

Federal law now requires that by 2015 health-care providers getting federal reimbursements in Medicare or Medicaid actively use electronic records or be subjected to fines. The huge Veterans Administration has been using electronic health records (EHRs) for a decade now, and their patient record system is said to have greatly improved patient care. And, just this year, a big incentive arrived: $19 billion in federal stimulus funds to jumpstart the effort. The bulk of those dollars - $17 billion - will go toward incentives in the form of Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements for physicians and hospitals that use electronic health systems.

Will the eletronic health record do what its supporters contend and create a new era of patient centeredness, shared decision making, better disease management, and improve chronic care? Or are the critics right, and will EHRs will drive up costs and produce less efficiency and inconsistent quality?

Blumenthal, a professor of medicine who is on leave from Harvard, took on the task of evangelizing health information technology as the national coordinator for health information technology. In my latest 1:2:1 podcast, I spoke with him about the many questions surrounding the implementation of EHRs and how they would benefit the consumer. He also told me what he's hearing from physicians as he travels the country leading the charge for the technological reshaping of health-care delivery.

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