- 
Listen To The Story
Marketplace

The federal government has invested more than $30 billion in electronic medical records. The idea is that these records will let doctors and hospitals improve patient care – and potentially lower costs – by tracking all the treatment a person receives.

The government may want its money back.

A new report from the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association finds nearly half of patient face-to-face contact with health care providers  checkups, emergency room stays, even hospital admissions — were missing from their electronic records.

This paper appears to be the first to quantify the problem.

Harvard’s Stephen Soumerai – one of the authors – says inaccurate electronic records like this are a safety threat.

“There are many studies now that show people are getting hurt because of the inability of systems to talk to each other,” he said.

The paper finds these records are often incomplete because various electronic record software systems are largely incompatible.

Over the past five years, electronic health records have become big business.

University of Pennsylvania’s Ross Koppel estimates hospital and physician practice spending on developing and implementing this technology, combined with federal money, has now reached $3 trillion.

Koppel said we haven’t realized the promise of electronic records yet, in large part because companies – Epic and Cerner are the largest – lack the financial incentives to make that happen.

“Vendors have made a lot of money selling systems that didn’t talk with each other and didn’t code the data in exactly the same way,” he said.

An Epic executive said the industry is in the process of developing standards to make it easier for systems to connect with each other. 

“I think the best compliment I can give is not to say how much your programs have taught me (a ton), but how much Marketplace has motivated me to go out and teach myself.” – Michael in Arlington, VA

As a nonprofit news organization, what matters to us is the same thing that matters to you: being a source for trustworthy, independent news that makes people smarter about business and the economy. So if Marketplace has helped you understand the economy better, make more informed financial decisions or just encouraged you to think differently, we’re asking you to give a little something back.

Become a Marketplace Investor today – in whatever amount is right for you – and keep public service journalism strong. We’re grateful for your support.

Follow Dan Gorenstein at @dmgorenstein