The Wall Street Journal reported today that Google was going to launch their own operating systems for PC's competing with Microsoft's dominant Windows platform. Google seems to continuously creating new, innovative and useful products. This very blog is hosted on blogger, which is now a Google product. Since they seem to be doing such a good job, why not let them solve the electronic medical records problem?
EMR's are a big part of President Obama's health care plan. I certainly value the use of EMR's. They provide me the data I need when I need it. They allow me to communicate more effectively with my staff. Using e-Prescribing in our EMR I am able to fill prescriptions faster and more accurately for my patients. Finally, through our EMR, patients can communicate directly with their physicians. (We use Touchworks by Allscripts. I have no vested interest in the product or company)
However, I do not believe that EMR will really save a lot of money. Time is money, and EMR's do not save time. EMR's do improve quality of care. They allow you to do more in a given amount of time, but do not save time., and in fact may add time because you can do more. The best example I can give for non-EMR users is that just in the way that your email and Blackberry have not saved you any time from the days when you relied on phone calls and the US postal service (have they not instead created more work?), EMR's do not save time. Politicians point to cost savings in preventing duplicate work. There might be a few duplicate tests or procedures prevented, but likely not that many and not nearly enough to call investment in EMR's a cost-reducer.
In my post $19 Billion For Health IT-Money Well Spent? I also call into questoin how the stimulus package is funding health IT. Looks like that money went to hospitals to improve exsiting systems, and not to help the primary care physician offset the HUGE cost of implementing an EMR in his or her practice. The software, hardware and support needed for most EMR's cost far more than the average physician practice can afford.
The real issue with EMR's is interoperability. The are many companies that make many products and not too many systems talk to each other. In our hospital alone, we now use up to eight different computer systems to store and retrieve patient information. Your primary care doctors EMR should be able to talk to the Pharmacy's computers, the lab's computers, the hospital's computers, the radiologist's computers, the specialists consulant's computers, etc.
Regardless of whether you support a single payer system or a tax rebate for patients to purchse their own health care; wouldn't it make sense to have one really good EMR that every doctor could use? Wouldn't it be great if this was on a web based platform, meaning that all you would need is a computer (or netbook, or web based mobile phone) and a high speed internet connection and you could have access? Most docs already have that. Wouldn't it be great if interfaces could be created so that all parties "spoke" to each other? Wouldn't it be great if this system could include functionality so that patients could communicate with their physicians, request appointments, and see their lab results?
Who better to create this EMR than Google? The interoperability/interface issue stems from the fact that there are so many proprietary systems. Each company that makes an EMR wants its EMR to be used by everyone. Just throwing money at all of these companies is not going to solve the problem or make EMR's more affordable or usable. The goverment already has a pretty good EMR used in the VA. It works well inside the VA, but doesn't talk to others. Even in a single payer, government run health care system, would you have the goverment re-vamp the VA EMR? Why not go to the pros at Google? They have already started the process with Google Health, though this is a personal health record and not an EMR. They good create a Google Medical record (GMR) that interfaces with their existing Google Health platform. Sure, they would have a monopoly, but in this case the benefits to the public, patients and doctors far outweight the risks. If the Google EMR was supported by the goverment, then you could create restrictions to limit any of their profit.