Standardizing Medicine's Technical Footprint

What would it look like if the government took a more active role in setting standards for health IT?

What would it look like if the government took a more active role in setting standards for health IT?

Want more information on the newest iteration of the iPhone? PCWorld has put together a nice slideshow that sums up the new features of the iPhone 4S that was unveiled the other day. This time around, it looks like Apple has focused on changes to the inside, and not only for the iPhone; there were evidently few visible changes to the iPod nano as well.

Use an HTC Android phone? If the answer is yes, you’ll want to know about a newly discovered user data leak which, according to Android Police, exposes user account information, the phone log, and system logs.

And while these pieces of tech news are interesting, there is one story in particular that caught my imagination: that of the planned purchase by India’s government of a $50 tablet for students in higher education. What does that have to do with medicine in the US, you ask? Bear with me.

India has decided to make an across-the-board investment in technology for the expressed purpose of building an educated workforce. India is already established itself as a resource for technology companies worldwide. It would naturally like to cement and grow that status, and the government is taking steps to support that goal. The idea has evolved, the government has had to readjust its course a time or two, but ultimately it looks like they are going to get the job done.

Now, I’m not trying to make a political statement here, nor am I promoting the idea that the government should have a heavier hand in medicine than it already does. What I am saying is that India may reap a lot of benefit by centralizing this goal. Was the process painless? No. But in the end, they are supplying an entire population of students with an important tool at an extremely low cost.

The US, on the other hand, is using a patchwork approach to the national technology initiative that is meant to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit, but also will entail high cost. It can’t help but be extraordinarily expensive. In the case of EHRs, everyone is pretty much going through implementation on their own, and who knows how long it will take before we have a truly integrated medical system? Do we even know what we want that to look like, and what technology should be used to provide it?

Just for moment, imagine what it would be like if the AMA or some other respected professional group(s) stepped forward with developing standards that would define the technological footprint of a national IT system for medicine, and that was subsidized. What if the guesswork in terms of what you needed to run your practice and meet the requirements of insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid was gone? What if you had some assurance that your EHR solution wouldn’t be obsolete in five years, and that a national system under development was taking the technology you are using into account? What if you were a part of a conversation in which you could redefine the way that you worked with hospitals and your access to respected resources nationwide?

What a world that might be. Sure there would be problems. I’m just wondering if the challenges or the rewards would be what they are now.