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Baby steps toward a national electronic medical records system?

Lead dosimetrist Kenn Florell looks over a cancer patient's image scan to help plan a radiation treatment at Cape Fear Valley Cancer Center August 4, 2010 in Fayetteville, N.C.

The project announced yesterday involves Geisinger Health System, Kaiser Permanente, Mayo Clinic, Intermountain Healthcare and Group Health Cooperative. The group is calling the initiative Care Connectivity Consortium. If you've been seeing a doctor at one of these facilities and then move or switch insurance and end up at another affiliated group, the transfer of your records will be easy. We talk to Dr. John Noseworthy, president and CEO of Mayo Clinic, who says that if a doctor has good access to what all other doctors thought, this could be a huge help to the patient.

Sounds great, right? So why hasn't it happened before? And why is it just barely starting to happen now? After all, every other industry in America seems to have electronic records down cold. I can call any hotel chain and get a receipt from when I stayed there three years ago.

Ashish Jha is a professor of Health Policy and Management at Harvard's School of Public Health. He says it comes down to money and software. There is a huge cost and huge hassle for people in medical offices to get all these records into electronic form. And if they do, it's generally the health insurance companies that benefit from any savings that are incurred. Would you be willing to work a lot harder and change how you're doing things if the primary beneficiary is a health insurance company?

There's also a lack of agreement on how all this information should be handled. How can you make everybody agree on one system? That's one of the reasons that Jha sees a really comprehensive electronic medical records system being well over 10 years away.

Also in this program, a 75-year-old woman in the republic of Georgia was foraging for copper wire when she apparently disconnected 90 percent of Internet service to Armenia. She's facing jail time but hey, she wasn't the one who relied on one wire in a completely different country for almost all of Armenia's Internet needs.

About the author

John Moe is the host of Marketplace Tech Report, where he provides an insightful overview of the latest tech news.

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