Technology firms and health care
ALTHOUGH most rich countries, and some leapfrogging poor ones like India, are adopting electronic medical records, doctors’ surgeries in America still mostly do things the old-fashioned way. Determined to change this, the Obama administration has passed laws that will flood the health-care industry with $28 billion in subsidies over the next few years to persuade doctors and hospitals to go digital. Aneesh Chopra, the White House’s chief technology officer, says the promise of this money is already boosting investment. The big tech firms have convinced themselves that the health industry will be the next to embrace cloud computing.
In principle, it makes sense to put health records into the “cloud”; the factories for mass-producing digital services that are the IT industry’s next big thing should be ideal places to store, maintain and process patient and clinical data. Doctors’ surgeries, hospitals and patients would all be able to retrieve and manipulate the data remotely, over the internet. Bridget van Kralingen, a senior executive at IBM, sees health care providing maybe one-tenth of the $7 billion in revenues her firm sees from cloud computing by 2015.
But some scepticism is in order. A scheme to computerise the medical records of every patient in England has turned into a spectacularly expensive fiasco. Gartner, a technology consultancy, observes in a recent report that tech firms are rushing to rebrand their products with the latest “cloud” buzzword, “whether they actually are cloud offerings or not.” The danger is that America’s health services have foisted upon them whatever the industry has to sell, rather than what is needed.
Another reason not to get too excited is the reflexive conservatism and technophobia of medical folk. Jonathan Bush, the boss of athenahealth, which uses the cloud to digitise health firms’ administrative systems, calls the medical industry “anti-innovation”. He reckons the average American doctors’ surgery still handles 1,000 faxes a day.