Blumenthal on EMRs: Debate "raging" over competition vs. standards

September 17, 2010 by Christian Holland

National Coordinator for Health Information Technology Dr. David Blumenthal says there is a "raging debate" in Washington over whether the development of electronic medical records should be driven by standards or competition.

Dr. David BlumenthalPhoto by Christian Holland

Former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill posed a technical question to keynote speaker Dr. David Blumenthal, the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.

Blumenthal had extolled the virtues of electronic medical records, also known as electronic health records, during his speech at a gala for the Lucian Leape Institute of the National Patient Safety Foundation. EMRs make him a better physician, he said, recounting personal anecdotes of discovering patients' allergies through automated EMR alerts and using stored image date to more quickly get a diagnosis for a patient without subjecting them to more radiation and toxic radiation agents.

The question O'Neill asked, however, dealt with the national standardization of EMRs, the digitized record systems of patients' health that the federal government is spending billions of dollars to get physicians and medical centers to adopt.

"Why is it that we're reluctant to declare that we are going to design the best prototype that we can with an idea that we will have [iterative versions] as we learn more and we identify more needs?" O'Neill asked. "Why is it that we can't call to question and get on with what's a clear and apparent need for a national standard that's a work in progress?"

"It's not that it has to be perfect from day one, but your office basically says, 'We're going to do this now'?", O'Neill said before a packed house of doctors and administrators of corporatized health systems.

Several audience members asked the HIT chief questions after his speech, but O'Neill's received the most head-nodding, with a quiet chorus murmuring "good question."