Many were leery of the campaigns to digitize medical records when the government first proposed the idea. Patient privacy was one of the first things to go, and it looks like the billions we’ve spent to make diagnosing illness in Americans hasn’t paid off. We are not receiving better healthcare, nor is the already-overburdened medical system saving money from the efforts to digitize.
Medical staff already has access to patient records, but once it is digitized it is available for anyone with a little cyber skill. One woman had her private medical records pasted all over the Internet recently when an employee of a Los Angeles County emergency room snapped a picture of her when she was admitted for severe pain. Though this scenario is extreme, it exemplifies just how easily patient breach of privacy occurs.
And to what end? In Verona, Wisconsin there is a 1000 acre property dedicated to the company Epic Systems, responsible for the medical records of over 179 million Americans; in other words 56% of the country. The company’s annual meeting draws IT managers to an 11,400 ‘deep space auditorium.’
Epic has grown into the country’s leading vendor of software in the $9.3 billion electronic health records (EHR) sector, pulling in $1.8 billion in 2014 and expanding at a rate of about 1,000 new employees a year. Kaiser Permanente, CVS’s Minute Clinics, Johns Hopkins, and Mount Sinai all use Epic.
What Epic has created though is a fragmented system that still leaves doctors guessing about their patient’s medical histories. Health professionals cannot trade information from hospital to another, which was the whole point of a digitized medical records system, if not a large part of why it was sold to the public at such an inflated price tag.
In 2009, only 17% of doctors stored information digitally, and studies suggested that while Obama’s proposal could cost up to $100 billion to implement, it could ultimately save $80 billion in health costs each year. When Congress passed the $840 billion stimulus package, it allotted $30 billion for hospitals and medical providers to digitize their records via the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act.
So what do companies like Epic stand to gain? It is clear their main goal wasn’t to help doctors with our health. It was to make money. Though there is nothing wrong with turning a profit, their system did not do what it promised – to make healthcare better for patients and easier for doctors, while saving the US money on healthcare.
Like so many other broken promises from Big Medicine, we are left holding the bag, while all the hard currency is raided by an unjust system which still favors medical tyranny and huge corporations.