NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 8, 2006

Five of the largest employers in the U.S. have joined forces to provide a secure, confidential repository for their employees' medial records. The group, Applied Materials, BP America, Intel, Pitney Bowes and Wal-Mart Stores, contracted an independent company to create personal health records their employees will own.

Only the individual patient will have access to the records, until they add their medical providers to an access list. Information for each record can be gathered from doctors, pharmacists, and insurance companies. Patients will also have the option of filling out sections of their records personally.

EHRs are not a new idea, but their implementation has been very slow. Cost is a major factor since most doctor's offices haven't had much reason to invest in the expensive equipment and software.

Moving to an electronic, interconnected system of health records, and away from doctor-owned paper files can have a significant impact on the health care system. Advantages include:

  • Better care coordination - all doctors and clinics can immediately see what everyone else is doing.
  • Increased safety with fewer medical errors - medical errors are often drug related.  This includes drugs prescribed by different physicians, neither of whom knows what the other is doing (e.g. see better care coordination above). 
  • Electronically prescribed drugs will generally have fewer prescribing errors due to electronic (rather than handwritten) prescriptions and built-in software can compare contra-indicated drugs.
  • Better management of chronic conditions.  Patients will be able to keep track of the care management they use at home, by tracking medications and at-home self-tests.
  • Better continuity of care. Changing physicians becomes easier since the patient can take their full record of treatment to the new doctor.

GM and Intel are hoping that large scale use of EMR will facilitate data mining to ascertain which treatments work and which ones don't. The future possibilities are really endless, since specially designed software could search for set variables (age, sex, race, treatments used and results) without compromising security or privacy.

Health care is the last frontier in digital record-keeping. Just about every other aspect of our lives is managed electronically. These companies are laying the groundwork for other employers across the country to follow suit. The scope of a nation-wide, internet-based record system may seem daunting, but the benefits of increased health and awareness definitely make it worth a try.


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