One piece of the healthcare reform law that Republicans and Democrats agree on is the need for computerized health records to give doctors better, more complete information and reduce the chance of medical errors. In my lifetime (a relatively healthy one), I've seen at least a dozen doctors, had two surgeries, visited a few specialists and, judging by the box of expired meds in my bathroom closet, had scores of prescriptions. But not a single healthcare provider I've visited could give you more than a fragment of my medical history, because my records are scattered across Kansas, Texas, Germany, North Carolina and Tennessee.

Not so for my new cats, Paco and Taco. They have their own electronic medical records set up through our veterinarian. When I call up Paco's records, I see that he's overdue for his parasite prevention meds, intestinal parasite screening and deworming #3, and his semi-annual health maintenance checkup should be this month. Also, thanks to Paco's EMR, I can map out the next few years appointments: I know that he will need an EKG and his blood pressure checked in August 2017 (by that time he will be 7 entering kitty middle age).

My husband thinks this is ridiculous. (Enough! We don't go for six-month checkups. Why should the cats) I won't argue the merits of giving a cat an EKG, and I know that my veterinarian's goal, besides keeping me up to speed on Paco and Taco, is to upsell me additional services. Therein lies the real carrot for moving healthcare providers to digital patient records giving them a financial incentive to share information. New York Times writer Steve Lohr notes that doctors and hospitals see value in holding patients information a patient is, among other things, a financial asset. He quotes Dr. David Blumenthal, the Obama administration's national coordinator for health information technology, who says that insurers will have to pay for providers to share information or penalize them if they don't. Information exchange has to be a business goal, rather than a competitive threat, for this to work.

Besides the business goal, insurers should pitch what's in the best interest of all the stakeholders a system that empowers doctors and patients to make better choices and generates data across populations to analyze what treatments are most effective. Just like we do for Taco and Paco.

 

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