Think tank finds complex benefits and risks in health IT

HHS' push for digital records provides benefits but also creates new problems

Installing health information technology systems in a doctor’s office or hospital provides capabilities that are not well understood and offers a complex array of potential benefits and cost savings, according to a new think tank report.

“Although many proponents discuss the perceived benefits of health IT, missing from the debate is an honest discussion of experiences with actual HIT systems, and the obstacles and pitfalls of poorly designed systems,” states the study from the National Center for Policy Analysis, a nonpartisan think tank based in Dallas. The report was released today.

For example, although many digital record systems may prevent common errors, they also have the potential to introduce new and serious errors. They also can increase exposure to privacy and security risks, the report said.

On the other hand, the systems can improve communication and collaboration and speed the scheduling and delivery of tests and treatments, the report said, adding that they also can improve access to care by using IT and mobile devices to remotely deliver care.

Although some experts have estimated the potential cost savings of health IT implementation nationwide to be as high as $78 billion, the report quotes from a Congressional Budget Office study in 2008 that found no evidence yet of substantial savings through using the systems.

The Obama administration is distributing $19 billion for health IT implementations through the economic stimulus law. It also is implementing regulations for how electronic record systems should be designed and used.

“The ultimate goal should be to improve quality, increase efficiency and add convenience — not just to create wired facilities,” the report stated.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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