A national electronic health records (EHR) network is certainly possible, but it's going to cost some serious dough. A study published yesterday in the Annals of Internal Medicine claims that installing such a national network could very well cost as much as $156 billion, and yearly operational costs could add up to another $56 billion.
Earlier this year, President Bush made the creation of such a network a main administration priority. Therefore, researchers funded by both the Commonwealth Fund and the Harvard Interfaculty Program for Health Systems Improvement sought to investigate just how much cash it will take to get it rolling.
Yet, according to recent estimates, the healthcare sector is currently expected to cover no more than 20 percent of the total. That leaves the question: how will the rest of the tab be covered?
Policy initiatives, the study suggests, will have to be created to help reduce the cost gap. Yet, the researchers have regardless concluded that the government will not necessarily have to pay the difference. For example, lead author Rainu Kaushal, MD, suggests that the creation of incentive programs of various kinds might stimulate the private sector to the point that they can maintain it themselves.
The good news is that many healthcare organizations have already made the move to paperless systems which are working well for them. Many others are on the way to making the shift. But this is institution by institution and is far from a universal and national system.
One of the major hurdles to large scale adoption, the study suggests, is that though the benefits to health information networks are felt by many people, the cost burdens fall to relatively few decision-makers and institutions.
Thus, without some public-sector investment of some kind, it seems unlikely that the private sector will rush to adopt sweeping changes of this kind, according to the study's authors.