U.S. Healthcare Industry Drowns in Paper Records

The U.S. spends the highest amount per capita on healthcare and gets the lowest value for it. While some portion of the total money spent goes to unnecessary “defensive” medical procedures performed by doctors and other healthcare providers a large portion of the funds spent is actually wasted on paperwork. In fact, the healthcare industry in the U.S. drowns in all forms of paper record keeping and in the process unnecessarily kills millions of trees. Despite advances in technology, the fear of lawsuits, regulatory burden and other factors forces health care providers to avoid digital record keeping and maintain mountains of paperwork for all transactions. Hence much of the total healthcare expenditures is not spent on actual healthcare but on paper record keeping activities.

From an article in Bloomberg BusinessWeek:

The U.S. is spending $2.7 trillion annually on health care, a number that’s approaching 18 percent of gross domestic product.

Despite the lack of national health insurance, the Federal government spends nearly half of the total annual national health expenditures through the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

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Source:  Are Entitlements Corrupting Us?, The Wall Street Journal

The US ranks lowest in the usage of Electronic Health Records (EHR) according a study by the Commonwealth Fund. The Bloomberg BusinessWeek article added:

Countries with national health-care systems such as Denmark, Sweden, and New Zealand have largely dispensed with records on paper. According to a study by the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund, Danish doctors reported in the late 1990s that they were saving 30 minutes a day by prescribing drugs and ordering lab reports electronically. A 2010 study by the same organization said the annual salaries of New Zealand’s family doctors had risen 50 percent in five years, thanks to increased funding and their prolific use of EHRs.

In the U.S., things are different. Some providers, such as Kaiser, the Mayo Clinic, and, interestingly, the Veterans Administration, have installed sophisticated data systems. For the most part, though, American doctors have resisted. They worry about the privacy of their patients’ records—and that plaintiffs’ attorneys will use the computerized data against them in malpractice suits. And they resent that they’re expected to shoulder the cost of new technology that might help their patients or insurance companies, but would do little for their own bottom lines.

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