Though the U.S. had made much progress taking medical-record keeping into the digital age, there's still some doubt that the government will reach its target by the prescribed deadline.
“We have found that 40 percent has been reached by early 2010, which was a huge jump from the 2007 to 2008 numbers, but the 50 percent goal is still very optimistic,” says Marianne Dekker Mattera, managing editor of the trade publication MedPage Today.
When President-elect Barack Obama proposed a massive plan that included standardization of health records in January 2009, only some 8 percent of the nation’s 5,000 hospitals and 17 percent of roughly 800,000 physicians used a common computer record-keeping system.
What's more, at that time only 14 percent of all U.S. medical practices had gone digital, according to the Department of Health and Human Services—a far cry from the 2014 goal of 50 percent.
“It has been a slow start, but we will get there,” says Anand Gaddum, health-care practice director for iLink Systems, a software services provider.
With tens of billions of dollars at stake, there is no shortage of incentives to enter the market. Studies from RAND, Harvard University and Commonwealth Fund put the transformation cost at $75 billion to $100 billion over the next 10 years.
“Physicians and physicians' practices are shelling out a lot of money," says Medpage's Mattera.
“GE has deep inroads with medical equipment, and a vast medical sales force," says Jack W. Plunkett, of Plunkett Research, a leading analyst in the medical field. “Athena Health has also gotten got out there early with its comprehensive system.”
Carrott And Stick
Going digital sounds easy but the rollout has had its share of wrinkles, on top of the basic human reluctance to embrace dramatic change and more focused reservations about new adopting technology.
For one, adoption costs money and has hidden costs, such as the downtime and training, which appears to be a burden for some.
“Sole practices cannot afford it or feel that they can’t afford it," says Mattera.