By Tom Curry National affairs writer
updated 1/6/2010 12:08:13 PM ET 2010-01-06T17:08:13

Claim: Use of electronic records, spurred by the insurance reform bill, will improve medical practice.

President Obama's stimulus plan includes about $20 billion to encourage more hospitals and doctors to switch to electronic records. At an event last month, the president said, 'These investments won't just increase efficiency and lower costs. They'll improve the quality of care as well, preventing countless medical errors and allowing providers to spend less time with paperwork and more time with patients." The Senate's insurance reform bill requires that the Secretary of Health and Human Services issue electronic records standards for funds transfers, claims management, and other tasks for the government's insurance programs. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that in the first 10 years after enactment of the bill, the electronic records provisions would result in about $19 billion in savings in federal and private insurance plans.

Fact or fiction?
Unclear. Not everyone is convinced that electronic records will do as much good as Obama claims. "There is little evidence that currently available computerized systems will improve care," said Stephen Soumerai, a professor of ambulatory care and prevention at Harvard Medical School and Sumit Majumdar, a professor at the University of Alberta's Department of Medicine in an opinion piece in the Washington Post. "The benefits of health IT (information technology) have been greatly exaggerated," they contended. Physician/writer Abraham Verghese, said in The Atlantic this week, "I miss the nurses' station with the chart racks which used to be the social center of each floor of the hospital. Since you can write your note from anywhere (including from Starbucks), we wind up 'talking' to each other through the medical record. We don't develop relationships that are good for coordinated patient care."

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