I like to fish, but I'm not very good at it. I'm the perfect customer for the makers of fishing tackle. Each year, I'll buy new and improved fishing tackle in the hopes that I'll get better. But, I can't buy just a new reel because it won't match my fishing pole. I have to buy the combo. The lack of interoperability works against my wallet and for the fishing tackle industries.
The same profit-maximizing dynamic works in the healthcare information-technology industry. IT vendors prosper when healthcare providers can't buy a system from one vendor that works with an existing system from a competitor. You have to stay with one vendor if you want to buy complementary components or buy everything new from someone else. The lack of interoperability works against providers' wallets and for IT vendors and suppliers.
Last month, three seemingly unrelated events happened in the world of healthcare IT. (Two are described in great detail in this issue's "Focus on Technology" section on p. 10.) But the more I thought about them, I couldn't help but hear President Dwight Eisenhower's warning to beware of the military-industrial complex.
First, the Rand Corp. released a study financed by four IT vendors and one pharmaceutical company. The conclusion? If 90% of all hospitals and physician practices implemented electronic medical records over the next 15 years, the nation would save an average of nearly $42 billion per year in national healthcare spending. Second, the Medical Group Management Association and the University of Minnesota School of Public Health released a study that said only about 14% of all physician practices use EMRs. That study was financed by HHS' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. And third, the CMS, which also is overseen by HHS, delayed releasing to the private sector a low-cost EMR system for physician practices that was developed by the Veterans Health Administration.
Let's see: If docs use EMRs, it will save billions. Docs want EMRs, but the cost is prohibitive. Docs can't yet have the cheap EMR system developed by the feds. Makes you wonder who will sell those cost-saving, albeit expensive EMR systems to physician practices until then?