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Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

E-Health: The Globe Turns It Over

E-Health: The Globe Turns It Over

July 3, 2008

Today's Boston Globe editorial, "Better data for better health," touts the work of the Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative (MAeHC), a three-community pilot project that has been working over the past four years to convert clinician offices from paper to computerized health records, and then connect them to one another, and to the hospitals, community-wide. (This work is primarily supported by $50 million from Blue Cross Blue Shield, which will have run out by the end of 2008.) On this transformation from paper to digital records, which is in its final stages, rests the hopes of everyone watching from all over the state - and the country: hopes for greater efficiency, economy, and particularly, higher quality care.

The editorial looks at new products from Google and Microsoft, which allow patients to create and track their own health records. The Globe points the finger at a crucial fact: these companies are not covered by any health privacy laws, which leaves consumers dependent on the companies' privacy policies, and no clear mechanism for sanction and remedy should a breach occur. Also, in practical terms, these records depend on individual consumers to fill them out, except in the rare instance that their health providers' records are digital and compatible with these products. That is an onerous task which few people can or will take on.

So it makes sense to support the work of the MAeHC, which is building systems from the ground up, to use its experiences to hone and improve the process it has begun and continue the work throughout the state. As long as this work is done in a transparent manner and the consumer voice is represented loud and clear -- the addition of the patient portal and the use of a patient opt-in authorization for the release of one's health summary to the central repository are two important examples of why that matters -- Massachusetts will be a model for the country.

Of course, there is no magic bullet to fix health care, and all health transactions, whether electronic or paper, are human to begin with. That does not mean, however, that great leaps in quality, efficiency, and cost cannot be made, though getting there could presuppose the greatest leap of all -- one of faith. For this work takes time, and only after it has been evaluated carefully will we know for a fact that health care is better because of it.

Click here for the MAeHC perspective on today's editorial.
Lisa Fenichel