The EHR/EMR Controversy in 2011


In 2007 alone, this country spent more than $2.24 trillion dollars on health care. In an effort to reduce costs and increase efficiency, the government is encouraging medical professionals to implement an EHR/EMR process.

The government claims this can reduce this expense by $80 billion each year. To make this happen, they pumped $20 billion of stimulus money into EHR/EMR technology in 2009.

The EHR is created as doctors, hospitals, and laboratories share information to create a central repository of medical data for a single patient—much like the financial industry has pooled their files to create centralized credit reports. EHR/EMR is stirring controversy: naysayers are concerned about privacy issues and the cost; proponents are saying it will revolutionize health care by saving lives and money. Take a closer look at this issue and decide for yourself!

Supposed Dangers of EHR/EMR

Privacy Issues

With identity theft on the rise, a concern about EHR/EMR data security is certainly valid. However, people have taken it to conspiracy-theory extremes! Instead of worrying about a random hacker, they worry insurance companies, employers, and even mortgage companies could review this information and use it like a credit report to deny employment, refuse coverage or increase costs.

The Effect of System Malfunctions

It’s a well-known fact that any automated system is at risk of failures, defects, power outages, and all kinds of problems. While other system glitches are a pain, a problem with this one could become life-threatening. Interestingly, developers of the EHR/EMR systems will not be held responsible for any injuries or deaths caused by defects in code.

Lack of Consistency

Another concern is the lack of consistency in the methods used to collect this data. Right now, estimates say that EHR/EMR systems are a $20 billion/year industry—and it’s only getting started. Even Wal-Mart is getting in on the act: they are partnering with Dell and eClinical Works to market a new EHR/EMR package through Sam’s Club. The cost is $25,000 for the first doctor in the practice and $10,000 for each additional physician.

With all these different software companies racing to beat their competition, there is some understandable concern that the diverse EMR systems will never marry up to create a single, integrated—and sharable—EHR.

The Experts Chime In

While the government talks about the money the health care industry will save, the software companies talk about the money they will make, and doctors talk about money they will have to pay, there’s not a lot of talk about the reason to implement this system—improved patient care.

Unfortunately, experts have said, so far, EHR/EMRs have had no effect on the standard of care for patients. This statement is based on a 2008 study that followed 15,000 patients experiencing heart failure, and 1.8 billion ambulatory-care patients.

The Benefits of EHR/EMR

Better Access to Medical Records

There’s no doubt that an EHR/EMR system will provide better access to medical records for both doctors and patients. Here are a few ways it will help:

  • Instead of requesting a paper copy of medical records and waiting for it, you or any treating doctor can immediately access it.
  • If you call a doctor because of an emergency off-hours, she won’t have to guess your condition, or drive to the office: she can access your EHR from her home computer.

Of course, these scenarios assume there is an effective security system in place, and each party has authorization to view private records.

EHR/EMRs Can Save Lives

Each year, 100,000 people die because of avoidable medical mistakes. Although EHR/EMRs can’t solve the entire problem, they will put a big dent in this number by ensuring each health care provider can easily review the patient’s entire health history. The experts say that mortality rates drop by an average of 40% when these systems are in place.

EHR/EMRs Can Save Money

The Obama administration quoted the potential savings at $80 billion a year to justify pumping stimulus money into the EHR/EMR project, while more conservative sources put the figure closer to just a few billion a year. No matter which study you go with, this is substantial savings for a stressed health care system. Here are some of the ways it will lower expenses:

  • Reduce administrative costs by eliminating manual processes
  • More accurate insurance claims mean faster payments and less rework
  • Eliminate duplicate medical tests and unnecessary procedures
  • Prevent dangerous prescription-drug interactions

More Convenient for Patients

If you’re still not convinced that the EHR/EMR approach is a good thing, consider this point: The new technology can save you time and money, too! No one’s talking about some elusive reduction in your health-insurance premiums that’s never going to happen—you’ll immediately notice the following differences once your doctor installs the system:

  • No more waiting at the drugstore—your doctor can electronically submit prescriptions directly to the pharmacy.
  • No more calling the doctor because an insurer doesn’t cover a specific drug—the doctor will be able to check coverage before contacting the pharmacy.
  • Some office visits will be avoided—if your symptoms are minor, the EHR/EMR system will allow you to discuss the situation via emails.


Right now, just 20% of doctors and 10% of hospitals use this, but the government has a plan in place to push the numbers to 100%. They will reimburse doctors $63,750 in implementation costs—hospitals get substantially more—to encourage them to transition electronically. If that doesn’t do the trick, your doctor may face a stiff fine or other sanctions by 2015.