Dana Blankenhorn’s article Give medicine access to PC standards makes some good points about the medical device industry but (IMHO) misses the mark when trying to use PC standards and PHRs as models for working towards a solution.
I’ll get back to his central points in a minute. One thing I find fascinating is the knee-jerk reaction in the comments to even a hint of government control. How on earth can someone jump from “industry standard” to a “march towards socialism”? We saw the same thing at this summer’s town hall meetings and in Washington a couple of weeks ago. The whole health care debate is just mind boggling!
Anyway, let’s focus on the major points of the article. First:
Every industry, as its use of computing matures, eventually moves toward industry standards. It happened in law, it happened in manufacturing, it happened in publishing.
It has not happened, yet, in medicine.
Very true. In the medical device world, connectivity and interoperability are hot topics. A couple of recent posts — Plug-and-Play Medicine and Medical Device Software on Shared Computers — point out the significant challenges in this area. In particular, the development and adoption of standards is a very intensive and political process. But where’s the incentive for the industry to go through this? Dana’s comment addresses this (my emphasis):
The role I like best for government is in directing market incentives toward solutions, and not just to monopolies or bigger problems.
The reason health care costs jump every year is because market incentives cause them to. Those incentives must be changed, but the market won’t by itself because the market profits from them.
Only government can transform incentives. …
Like it or not, this may to the only way to push the medical industry to do the right thing. But those other industries didn’t need government intervention in order to create their standards. Using PC (or other industry) standards as a model for facilitating medical data access just doesn’t work. The health industry will have to dragged to the table kicking and screaming, and the carrot (or stick) will have to be large in order for them to come to a consensus.
Second, I don’t see the relationship between the use of PHRs and the promotion of standards.
By supporting PHRs, you support your right to your own data. You support liberating data from proprietary systems and placing it under industry standards. You support integrating your health with the world of the Web, and the benefits such industry standards can deliver to you.
Taking responsibility for your own health data is great, but both Microsoft HealthVault and Google Health are proprietary systems. Just because your data is on the Web doesn’t make it any more accessible. And even if one of these PHRs did became an industry standard, it would have very little impact on how EMRs communicate with each other or medical devices in general.
There are no easy answers.