Attention, Congress: You've already done something bipartisan on healthcare

Need help explaining to non-techies why EHRs are the way to go? An in-depth report on EHRs that aired on "CBS Sunday Morning" last weekend provides an awfully good primer about the benefits of EHRs, as well as the drawbacks. It also offers a reminder that it really is possible to forge a bipartisan agreement in Congress over at least some elements of healthcare reform.

New York Times reporter David Pogue does a good job explaining the issues in layperson's terms, starting by highlighting the plight of actor Dennis Quaid, whose newborn twins nearly died of an egregious medication error that a barcoding system could have prevented. Quaid even gives a rare interview about his efforts to highlight the scourge of preventable medical errors in America. (Quaid didn't take questions from the press when he spoke at the 2009 HIMSS conference.)

The CBS story also contrasts the $4 billion Kaiser Permanente spent to computerize its medical records with the dilemma of an independent Connecticut gastroenterologist who still has an office full of paper charts. "When we scan your name and we scan the patient's medication, the medication-administration record will pop out and say, 'Wrong medication,'" explains Kaiser nurse Janet Mendoza.

But gastroenterologist Dr. Claudia Gruss brings up the issues of cost and process redesign. "There are tremendous administrative costs and time commitments that doctors have to make at this point, with questionable help to the practice," she says. "We're talking about up to $40,000 per physician, initial costs. So, it's a big hunk of change."

That's what the federal stimulus is supposed to address. But, according to Ashley Katz of Dr. Deborah Peel's Patient Privacy Rights Foundation, all the money will be for naught if there aren't proper protections in place. National health IT coordinator Dr. David Blumenthal says that the standardization efforts underway will address the privacy issue.

For more information:
- read or watch this "CBS Sunday Morning" story