Health Wonkery in Everything

Matthew Holt writes:

Apple CEO Steve Jobs and filmmaker Michael Moore essentially are on the same mission. They both want to convince the American public to take another look at what they've been using so far hoping that the re-evaluation will be so dramatic that the scales will fall from their eyes and Americans will suddenly realize they can do much much better than what they've had to put up with so far.

The simple fact of the matter is that, like cell phones in the EU, health care works better over there. Why? Better use and management of the technology at hand. It's not entirely a coincidence that in most major European countries the use electronic medical records by physicians is much more common than it is the US. And we're not talking a minor distinction here. In countries like Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, the UK and New Zealand the use of electronic medical records in the exam room by primary care physicians is almost universal. In the US despite years of hype, somewhere under 20% of doctors are using them.

To this day, I've never read a compelling explanation of why the nation's doctors and hospitals haven't broadly adopted electronic medical records. It's not as if they're allergic to technology. At this point, cardiovascular care employs every strategy but astral projection to keep our in rhythm. It's not as if it wouldn't be cheaper and easier for them. The man hours and costs from keeping track of files, printing out labels, finding lost manila folders, and getting sued because the nurse misread the doctor's handwriting are enormous. Theoretically, insurers should be pushing on this, but they seem behind the curve, too. And it's not as if there aren't tested programs in use -- not only does Europe do electronic records well, but the VA does them beautifully, and they've released their primary program, ViSTA, as open source, for free use by anybody.

That all these factors haven't spurred our private providers to incorporate such broadly appreciated technology should be one of our first signs that American medicine is not responding to the incentives we'd expect. But wait, no, can't say that, because Michael Moore sometimes stretches the truth...

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