Will health solutions equal healthy profits?

If you happen to live in a Presidential battleground state, such as Ohio, Pennsylvania or Florida, you might have heard Sen. McCain talking effusively on the stump about how to revolutionize health-care — using information technology. Sen. Obama has sounded pretty similar.

It’s not an obvious campaign pitch, at least at first. Those of us here in the Pacific Northwest have missed most of this discussion. I got interested when I saw how lucrative it might be.

Electronic health records have been a priority within the health care industry for a while. Getting rid of all those paper files is supposed to lead to fewer medical mistakes and a more efficient system. If you walk into an emergency room (or a clinic you’ve never visited), the doctor or nurse could call-up your medical history, including medications and allergies, and not rely on anyone’s memory.

Reformers who love electronic records envision a day when patients are “empowered” by having access to all their records. Personally, I like the idea of having access to and control of my records. And it definitely sounds more efficient. But once you’ve got a long medical rap sheet, couldn’t it still be too much information for the doctor to scroll through? Especially for your 10-minute appointment?

You can run a full-day seminar on all the lingering privacy issues.

It’s also a big expense on the horizon. I stopped by a conference in Seattle, of health information specialists (a group called AHIMA), and I learned that only about 15-17% of hospitals and medical practices have invested in the computer technology upgrades. Wow – more than 80% still have to buy new computers and servers and a bunch of software, to make the conversion. No wonder software and computer companies are excited. Even Microsoft is getting into the act, with a new division called the Health Services Group.