The Delayed Promise of Health-Care IT

WASHINGTON, DC – Because information technology (IT) has so quickly transformed people’s daily lives, we tend to forget how much things have changed from the not-so-distant past. Today, millions of people around the world regularly shop online; download entire movies, books, and other media onto wireless devices; bank at ATMs wherever they choose; and self-book entire trips and check themselves in at airports electronically.

But there is one sector of our lives where adoption of information technology has lagged conspicuously: health care.

Some parts of the world are doing better than others in this respect. Researchers from the Commonwealth Fund recently reported that some high-income countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, have made great strides in encouraging the use of electronic medical records (EMR) among primary-care physicians. Indeed, in those countries, the practice is now nearly universal. Yet some other high-income countries, such as the United States and Canada, are not keeping up. EMR usage in America, the home of Apple and Google, stands at only 69%.

The situation in the US is particularly glaring, given that health care accounts for a bigger share of GDP than manufacturing, retail, finance, or insurance. Moreover, most health IT systems in use in America today are designed primarily to facilitate efficient billing, rather than efficient care, putting the business interests of hospitals and clinics ahead of the needs of doctors and patients. That is why many Americans can easily go online and check the health of their bank account, but cannot check the results of their most recent lab work.