Implementation of Health Care IT Delayed by Privacy Concerns
"Powerful forces are lobbying hard for government and private programs that could push the nation's costly and inefficient health care system into the computer age," but such efforts have "bogged down, largely because of differences over how to balance the health care industry's interest in efficiently collecting, studying and using data with privacy concerns for tens of millions of ordinary Americans," the New York Times reports.
President Bush -- as well as health insurers and medical device companies and technology companies -- supports increased use of health care information technology, and Intel and Wal-Mart Stores this week plan to announce programs to establish electronic health records for employees. In addition, the House and Senate have passed separate bills to promote the use of health care IT. However, passage of a final bill remains delayed over concerns about the privacy of medical records.
According to the Times, technology experts have "many explanations for the slow adoption" of health care IT in the U.S. -- such as the "high initial cost of the equipment, difficulties in communicating among competing systems, and fear of lawsuits against hospitals and doctors that share data" -- but the "toughest challenge may be a human one: acute public concern about security breaches and identity theft."
Outgoing House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Joe Barton (R-Texas), who supports such legislation, said, "Privacy is an important issue, but more important is that we get a health information system in place."
Democrats have said that they plan to address the issue of privacy of medical records after they take control of Congress next year. Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) said, "There is going to be much more emphasis placed upon privacy protections in the next two years than we have seen in the last 12 years."
Likely incoming House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair John Dingell (D-Mich.) said that increased use of health care IT "clearly has great potential benefit" but "also poses serious threats to patients' privacy by creating greater amounts of personal information susceptible to thieves, rascals, rogues and unauthorized users" (Freudenheim/Pear, New York Times, 12/3).