Health IT push could widen gap between rich, poor patients

Could the government's push to digitize all medical records in the next five years end up working against its goal of providing quality care to all Americans? That's the question posed in an article published by the Center for Public Integrity, which worries that ultimately, efforts to convert paper health records to digital ones will create a larger gap in care between rich and poor patients. 

Many doctors running small practices in rural or underserved areas point to the reimbursement money as a primary concern. Even with the federal government ponying up $44,000 in economic stimulus dollars for facilities that demonstrate "meaningful use" of electronic health record technology, facilities like the Ethio American Health Center in Washington, D.C. would wind up paying more for the technology than the reimbursed amount they could expect, assuming they could even afford the equipment in the first place. 

"On the one hand, the potential for IT helping is enormous," Ruth Perot, head of the National Health IT Collaborative for the Underserved, said, according to the article. "The flip side is, if it's available in communities that are doing better than others, and communities of color aren't getting access, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that gaps are going to increase." 

Still, between increased money provided for facilities that serve less needy patients and outreach centers to aid in the process of going digital, clinics like the Ethio American center have a fighting chance, the article notes. What's more, such technology, if implemented, could be "transformative" and cut costs for providers who treat patients who bounce from facility to facility for care, as those patients now would have medical histories available at multiple locations, according to Adolph Falcon, senior vice president of the national Alliance for Hispanic Health. 

"[W]e'll have a much better understanding of the health experiences of a much broader group of Americans," he said. 

To learn more:
- read the Center for Public Integrity piece