The Obama administration is in the midst of making plans to spend $19 billion on modernizing medical record-keeping systems, but is it going to be enough? Most hospitals are seriously behind when it comes to digital technology, with a full 98% of American hospitals retaining a paper-based medical record-keeping and billing system. And with the debate over Universal Health Care in full swing, it seems that everyone is looking for ways to save on individual health insurance and health care.
According to the results of a new national survey, less than 2% of American hospitals have completely switched to an electronic medical record-keeping system.
Between 8% and 11% of hospitals have partial electronic systems in place, with at least one department in those hospitals having converted to a digital record-keeping system.
Dr. David Blumenthal, head of the Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital, says that American hospitals are at a “very low stage” of adoption of digital technology as compared to other countries. But with less than 2% of American hospitals completely digital, this seems to be a massive understatement.
American hospitals – and doctor’s offices, for that matter, with just 17% of American physicians using digital record-keeping technology – have a very long way to go.
Health Records, Health Insurance, and Saving Money
Previously, the Bush administration set a goal of 2014, by which time the entire country would (theoretically) have transferred to an electronic medical record-keeping system. This goal got a much-needed boost earlier this year when President Obama signed the economic stimulus package which includes $19 billion for converting physicians and hospitals to an electronic system. (Interestingly enough, the majority of the money is earmarked for incentives to encourage doctors and hospitals to use electronic systems.)
The money is certainly needed. A small hospital to convert to an electronic medical record-keeping system, around $20 million in capital is required. For a large academic hospital, that figure can range up to $200 million. For around 75% of hospitals, lack of funding is the main barrio towards updating their record-keeping systems. Approximately 44% also cited maintenance costs as a significant barrier.
Given the enormous cost, the survey results that show 98% of hospitals, and 83% of doctors are in need of an electronic updage, are somewhat sobering. Will $19 billion be enough to update the country’s antiquated medical record-keeping systems?
Photo credit: David Boyle in DC