Connecting EMR systems needs to be an industry priority

In the long run it makes no sense for the "Health Internet" to be "built" or even heavily subsidized by the government.

I finally decided to do something about the leg tendon that has been aggravating me since mid-summer.

I called my doctor and got a referral for some sports medicine. A surgeon confirmed I just needed physical therapy. He referred me to a facility near my home, which is doing a great job.

The only bad news is that, while each of these facilities had Electronic Medical Record (EMR) software in place, I still had to fill out a wealth of forms when I walked in. I even got the chance to use the surgeon's EMR package, inputting my own medical history.

I assured the clerks at both offices I visited that this state of affairs is not forever. Connecting EMRs through health ISPs is becoming a big priority for health IT.

The problem is that priority must be matched by cash. The race is now on by agencies to grab that cash, even before the NHIN Direct standards become final.

New York, for instance, is telling all who care to listen about its plans to "create the country's largest EMR network," to quote from the press release.

What's happening is the state's Department of Health, along with a public-private group called the eHealth Collaborative, have submitted their final operation plan to the federal government.

They're looking for money, in other words, $129 million to be precise.

Should they get it?

In the long run it makes no sense for the "Health Internet" to be "built" or even heavily subsidized by the government. It is in every clinic and hospital's interest to move this data, and the NHS Direct plan is a good place to start.

As I read it, the idea is that standards will be developed, through public-private collaboration, implemented entirely in the private sector, through the development of "health ISPs" that can move EMR data, under the standards, wherever it is needed.

That sounds like a pretty good plan, efficient in its use of government resources.

The National Coordinator for Health IT, meanwhile, has already given out cash for "Beacon Communities" which will build their own EMR infrastructures and show what savings can be had. These are supposed to show us what works and what doesn't, what the real benefits are.

And then everyone else is supposed to invest wisely.

So what's New York doing? Trying to get government to do what its clinics and hospitals should be doing themselves? And if we're to fund their network, controlled by their government, what does this do to private companies which might want to compete with that network?

This is not a political rant. Far from it. What is most important in the development of the Health Internet is speed. My hand is cramping from all those paper forms I've been filling out -- I may need therapy for carpal tunnel next.

And while I was brought up in New York, I live in Georgia.

Drawing a line between what the public funds and what the industry funds might be a good idea right now.

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