The Big Business of Electronic Medical Records : Planet Money President Obama says electronic medical records will help provide better, cheaper care. An attempt to get them in the U.K. shows that creating a system may be tougher than expected.
NPR logo The Big Business of Electronic Medical Records

The Big Business of Electronic Medical Records

President Obama wants to make electronic medical records a key part of his health care reform. Yesterday at his town hall address in New Hampshire, he called them "a sensible thing to do." But as the current battle over these records in the U.K. shows, figuring out a system may be harder and more expensive than it looks.

The U.K.'s plan to create a single database known as the "spine" has been plagued by cost overruns and delays. In 2008, the company contracted to build the database was fired after a contractual dispute, a new IT services provider has since taken their place.

Earlier this week, the U.K.'s Conservative party spoke out against the National Health Services' efforts to create a single central database, after a review of the project found it should "consider alternative solutions to one monolithic central spine of data." Shadow health minister Stephen O'Brien says the data should be held locally and individual doctor's offices should be able to negotiate their own contracts and run their own databases.

The Department of Health is defending the original "spine" project, saying that patients are already benefiting from services like the electronic delivery of X-rays and the "Choose and Book" appointment scheduler. They also argue that canceling or renegotiating existing contracts would be costly and time consuming.

Meantime, tech companies in the U.S. are already gearing up to get in on the business of electronic medical records. The stimulus bill passed earlier this year sets aside billions of dollars in incentives for doctors and hospitals who buy and use electronic records.