David Pogue of The New York Times has written this interesting and positive story entitled, “Charting a New Course,” which is about the coming age of electronic medical records. It is positive because the issue is getting the attention of a major mainstream media player; because some solutions are being tried by some big players; the government is setting aside billions to help defray the costs, and I learned that according to this piece we now have a medical records czar in America.
But it is not such a positive story from the perspective that it features the country’s largest non-government installation of an electronic medical system built without much reference to industry or national or international standards because there apparently aren’t any… yet. The new czar is quoted in the story saying: “We’re developing standards at the national level to make it possible for records to talk to each other…”
But in the meantime look at what a lack of standards has cost one major institution: Kaiser Permanente has just spent $4 billion and five years installing an electronic medical system in its 430 offices and 35 hospitals…But there’s no assurance of national medical records systems compatibility. Says Dr. Claudia Gruss, a gastroenterologist in Connecticut: “There are like 60 proprietary programs out there,” Gruss said. “And right now, they don’t necessarily talk to each other.”
This sort of thing is what led to the extinction of companies like Digital Equipment, Prime Computer, Data General, Wang and many others and zillions wasted in proprietary IT infrastructure. It is the sort of thing that led to portable operating systems and open systems. And it is exactly the sort of thing that an organization like GS1 and the international adoption of its standards averts in the supply chain. Yes, I know that a barcode isn’t a medical records system. The point is, a standards-based solution to anything that everyone can share and follow, whether for a barcode, a records system or a game of football is paramount to compatibility for all. If within three to five years a national standard is built and if it isn’t modeled after Kaiser Permanente, their five years worth of toil and billions of dollars invested is apt to find itself in the trash which, by the way, is no solution for lowering health care costs.