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Is there technology that might help reduce medical errors?

In a post late last month, we found ourselves commenting about how new medical technology may hold promise for improving overall standards of care. But as that post noted, just because something is new doesn’t mean it’s beneficial.

Unfortunately, too often, the only way average consumers can know if a tool that is being promoted has value is if the media provides analysis. Most people just don’t have the ability to get the necessary information. And if they get it, one has to wonder how many could make sense of the data. So, we rely on the news media, and even then, readers can’t be sure they’re getting the whole scoop, even if the source is The Wall Street Journal.

There is technology that is widely proven to be useful. Yet for some reason, the health care industry has been glacially slow to adopt it. And even in the face of powerful government incentives, movement has lagged.

What we’re talking about is the digitizing of health information records. But the issue isn’t just one of getting information into computers. There’s the equally important issue of making it readily shared among the various players in the health care system — doctor to doctor, clinic to hospitals, and so on.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is one of a number of organizations that has been looking at this matter for some time. It’s viewed as so important that the RWJF collaborates with several other major groups and issues an annual report.

In the latest of these, the groups say that adoption of health record technologies has been steadily increasing. It credits this in part to provisions in federal law that encourage the trend. At the same time, though, the report says there are doctors and hospitals, especially in rural settings, still struggling to get up to speed. And the report questions whether the whole efforts can succeed.

That’s pretty disconcerting, considering the report’s recognition that failures in current data exchange systems contribute to inefficiencies and instances of preventable medical error and failures to diagnose.

The report speculates that one big reason electronic information exchange has not been more broadly adopted is that it’s been tough to convince doctors to demand it and use it when it is available.

So what do you think needs to be done to change things?