EMR projects finally getting noticed

EMR adoption may be far below where policymakers would like it to be, but at least the bully pulpit seems to be working. A couple of years ago, if you mentioned electronic medical records to a newspaper reporter, you would either have been met with a blank stare or bombarded with the most simplistic of questions. The rare attempts to cover EMRs often were comical.

Exhibit A was a front-page headline in The New York Times on July 21, 2005, which proclaimed, "U.S. Will Offer Doctors Free Electronic Records System." The story was about the then-impending release of VistA-Office EHR, a "lite" version of the Department of Veterans Affairs' vaunted VistA system, from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. "It certainly wasn't our own promotion or our own messaging," a CMS senior advisor told me at the time. VistA-Office EHR not only wasn't free, it was a flop.

Nearly four years later, and with $19.2 billion in federal stimulus money on the way, mainstream news outlets from coast to coast are churning out plenty of copy about the national health IT push and local EMR deployments. In just the last week, I've seen the following headlines:

  • Local clinic giving patients "digital" experience KPLC-TV, Lake Charles, LA
  • Cheers...to A.O. Fox Memorial Hospital The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY
  • Medical records going digital at Mercy Merced Sun-Star, Merced, CA
  • Push is on to put medical records online The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, WA

Not everyone is 100 percent accurate. The Merced Sun-Star reported: "President Barack Obama has decreed that all medical files be electronic by the year 2013." Obama didn't decree anything in this regard, just set a goal, and his target date is 2014. But that's a minor mistake compared to what people were writing--or ignoring--four years ago. 

Plus, as they say, any publicity is good publicity. - Neil