The health care industry has been talking about electronic medical records and e-medicine for at least 20 years. Both advocates and opponents have focused on the impact on patient care. For advocates, some important advantages of the technology are more effective management of patient history and fewer errors in moving information within the care system. A medication mistake caused by poor penmanship -- reading "tbsp" for "tsp," for example -- can have long-term consequences. Electronic medical records reduce the chances of that happening, advocates say.
For opponents, the advent of technology puts more distance between the doctor and the patient. The practice of medicine is a high-touch profession, they say. Critics also worry that, as doctors and other medical personnel rely more on technology, they will rely less on their own training and skills.
In our last post, we discussed a 2010 study that showed a dramatic improvement in prescription errors with the introduction of e-prescribing, from 37 per 100 down to 7 per 100 scrips. Nationwide data show a 5 percent error rate in hospitals with e-prescription software; of that 5 percent, 7 percent could have had bad outcomes.
While the data certainly favor e-prescription, only 36 percent of all prescriptions in this country were electronically transmitted during 2011. If it's so effective, why are so many clinics and hospitals delaying e-prescribing adoption?
Researchers suggest two reasons: cost and hassle. E-prescribing is usually part of a full electronic medical record system, and that can be pricey. Federal funding may help, but any assistance there is five years down the road. Clinics and hospitals must make the initial outlay.
As just about all of us know, installing a new IT system is not easy. Everything that was on paper must be transferred to the new software. The transition from old to new process can slow everyone and everything down, too, and the learning curve can actually take staff members, including caregivers, off task. The facility must absorb all of these costs in addition to the purchase price and training fees.
What the medical profession needs to decide is whether the opportunity to reduce prescription errors and other medical mistakes outweighs the cost and hassle of implementing an e-prescribing system. But the debate over health care costs versus patient care may never be resolved.
Source: New York Times, "Chicken Scratches vs. Electronic Prescriptions," Randall Stross, April 28, 2012