Another reminder: EMRs alone are no cure

It can't be said enough: Health IT is no panacea. Switching to EMRs won't automatically improve the ailing U.S. healthcare system, nor is there any guarantee that it will meet the Obama administration's goals of widening access, improving outcomes and lowering the cost of care.

We get a sobering reminder of this reality in an unbylined article this week on the [email protected] site from the University of Pennsylvania. "No one has done the careful research to indicate that if one healthcare system has information technology and the other doesn't, then the care is different. There are no controlled trials," says Wharton healthcare management professor Mark Pauly.

"The focus on IT in healthcare is a good thing, but there's way too much hype about it and misunderstanding about what the benefits will be and how quickly they will come," adds Dr. Peter Gabriel, medical director of clinical information systems for the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

It's ironic in some ways, and fitting in others, that the impetus behind the federal push for EMRs came from former National Coordinator for Health Information Technology Dr. David Brailer, himself a product of The Wharton School. While a tireless champion for EMRs, Brailer has said many times that IT alone won't fix a broken healthcare system.

The popular $19.2 billion figure associated with the health IT stimulus actually is a net figure, based on expected efficiency gains from closer to $32 billion in gross federal outlays. Only if everything works as expected will the lower amount appear on the federal balance sheet. Otherwise, taxpayers will be on the hook for so much more money.

The message is simple: Don't screw it up. - Neil