The federal government is offering incentives ($19 billion worth) for doctors and hospitals to go electronic with their records. Given that other major industries such as the stock market and airlines have gone paperless in an effort to become more efficient and save money, we have to wonder what is really holding back the medical field.
The reason lies neither with cost nor with inadequate technology. Rather, the health-care industry’s reluctance to digitize its records is rooted in a desire to keep medicine’s lucrative business model hidden. Dangling $19 billion in front of a $2.4 trillion industry is not nearly enough to get it to reveal the financial secrets that electronic health records are likely to uncover–and upon which its huge profits depend. In those medical records lie the ugly truth about the business of medicine: sickness is profitable. The greater the number of treatments, procedures, and hospital stays, the larger the profit. There is little incentive for doctors and hospitals to identify or reduce wasteful spending in medicine.
There is not much incentive for people to adopt healthy lifestyles with the system as it currently is implemented.
An even bigger threat to the sickness industry’s business model is that by allowing automated tracking of patients over time, electronic health records would set the stage for early detection and preventive medicine. Currently, the entire industry is organized around treating sickness, rather than keeping people healthy in the first place.
It would be a step in the right direction, however, it would be ineffective unless the data gained from such a system is used to reward/punish individuals based on choices. So, you’ve got high blood pressure and refuse to take your meds – pay more. Enjoy smoking and refuse to quit – pay more. Etc., etc. One area likely to see a huge benefit is cancer screening, since earlier detection equals a better, and cheaper outcome.