Doctors Say Effort to Digitize Medical Records Is Not Worth It

President Barack Obama has promised $19 billion dollars of the stimulus package to turn every medical record in the country digital by 2014. But a group of doctors at the Harvard Medical School are warning that the shift to electronic medical records is not worth the cost.

The opinions were expressed in essays published in The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. They described the move to digitize medical records as potentially "harmful" and offering "no real benefit."

In The Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, Drs. Jerome Groopman and Pamela Hartzband of the Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston wrote, "there are no compelling data to demonstrate that such voluminous documentation translates into better outcomes for their sick patients."

A 2005 RAND study that found that electronic medical records could save about $80 billion dollars a year was questionable, the doctors added.

"The cost-savings from avoiding medication errors are relatively small, amounting at most to a few billion dollars yearly," their article stated. "The impact of medication errors on malpractice costs is likely to be minimal, since the vast majority of lawsuits arise not from technical mistakes like incorrect prescriptions but from diagnostic errors, where the physician makes a misdiagnosis and the correct therapy is delayed or never delivered. There is no evidence that electronic medical records lower the chances of diagnostic error."

A similar opinion was expressed in a Washington Post essay by Stephen B. Soumerai, a professor of ambulatory care and prevention at Harvard Medical School and Sumit R. Majumdar, an associate professor at the University of Alberta's Department of Medicine.

They wrote that investing billions of dollars in healthcare technology was wasteful at a time when American healthcare suffers from more pressing issues, such as lack of quality healthcare for many Americans.

"For many chronically ill and vulnerable patients, it does not matter much whether their health records are digital or their prescriptions typed," they wrote. "Without patient access to clinicians and adequate health insurance that includes affordable drug coverage, a $50 billion investment in health information technology won't do much for many Americans. These funds are needed elsewhere."

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