Emergic: Rajesh Jain's Blog

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Building a Medical Data Network

November 23rd, 2004 · No Comments

The New York Times writes about a conference last week at Rockefeller University:

The panel spent more time on the need to bring patient records and prescriptions out of the ink-and-paper era and into the computer age. “The problem I see is that we have so much information and we need to be able to translate that information into care,” said Dr. Edward D. Miller, dean of the Johns Hopkins University medical school.

Last week’s dialogue was a brief chat in a larger national discussion about how to make the transition to electronic health records and the implications of such a move. To date, the impetus for bringing information technology to health care has centered somewhat narrowly on reducing administrative costs and medical errors – both of which are huge problems.

An estimated 31 percent of this year’s total national health care bill of $1.79 trillion is spent on administration. Electronic record-keeping would eliminate enormous amounts of paper-shuffling, which could save hundreds of billions of dollars and many lives. An estimated 45,000 to 98,000 people die each year from medical errors, including those attributable to misunderstood handwritten prescriptions and hospital charts, or lost laboratory test results.

But digital patient records are merely a first step toward a broader vision. Those records could become building blocks in a nationwide biomedical computer network for assembling and distributing up-to-the-minute epidemiological studies. The network could show researchers and physicians what treatments work for people with similar characteristics, ailments and, eventually, gene markers. To protect privacy, personal identifiers would be stripped out of the national network.

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