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Electronic health records aren't cutting costs so far

A nurse files patient records. The clunky programs, high costs and incompatible systems in electronic records are factors in failure to save billions.

You know that phrase ‘too good to be true’? Hello medical health records!

Back in 2005, the RAND Corporation said electronic medal health records could save $81 billion a year. And lots of people bought it -- these things would revolutionize the industry.

Well RAND has a new report, and guess what? The potential of electronic records hasn’t been realized -- not even close.

If you are a doctor, it’s pretty easy to understand why electronic health records fall short.

“I often describe it as cutting edge 1995 technology,” says Ashish Ja, an internist and health policy professor at Harvard. “A lot of these electronic records are cumbersome. I’m confident a lot of them are still written in DOS. It’s terrible.”

Not only that, but often one hospital’s system can’t sync with another’s.

To many in the industry, this is no surprise. Dr. Arthur Kellermann -- one of the authors of the RAND study -- says many of these medical health record programs were designed to reflect the old values of our health care system, like billing.

Fast financial processing. Accurate documentation of what was done for billing and coding purposes, because that’s where dollars flow in American medicine,” says Kellermann.

Kellermann says here’s the real danger: As a doc, it’s hard to invest time and money -- about $50,000 to $100,000 -- in a health record system that might not be a permanent solution. So he says lots of providers are sitting on the fence.

That, Kellermann says, just perpetuates the inefficiencies that plague the industry.

“We have a health care system that the Institute of Medicine estimates is wasting $750 billion a year,” he says. "Our country can’t afford $750 billion for stuff that doesn’t make you feel better or get better.

The antidote: Entrepreneurs.

Kellermann says it’s just a matter of time before the right person designs something intuitive and easy that turns the health industry on its head. He’s hoping that someone comes along pretty soon.

About the author

Dan Gorenstein is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Health Desk. You can follow him on Twitter @dmgorenstein.

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