Public Questions Digital Fix For Health Care Most Americans do think Obama's push for electronic medical records would improve health care, but they don't think it would lower costs or protect their privacy, a new NPR-Kaiser-Harvard poll finds. And, many people trust their doctors but worry about the idea of a government panel deciding which treatments are most effective.
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Public Questions Digital Fix For Health Care

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Public Questions Digital Fix For Health Care

Public Questions Digital Fix For Health Care

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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And Americans have lots of ideas of how to fix health care, but the way patients see things can be at odds with what health care experts believe. Those differences came out in the new poll by NPR, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health. Over the next few days, we'll hear stories based on our poll. Here's the first, from NPR's Joseph Shapiro.

JOSEPH SHAPIRO: These clashes between what the public sees and what experts believe raise some danger flags for Congress and the Obama administration as they set out to improve American health care. Last week, President Obama talked about how electronic medical records are at the center of his plan.

President BARACK OBAMA: And that's why our recovery act will invest in electronic health records with strict privacy standards that can save money and lives and reduce medical error.

SHAPIRO: The idea is to link your doctors, hospitals and others so they can share your medical records. The new poll shows that many Americans accept the president's argument for such a system, but only to a point.

Robert Blendon runs polling programs at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Professor ROBERT BLENDON (Harvard School of Public Health): Improving care, the fact that one physician would be able to have all the information that another had entered, that appears to make a lot of sense to people.

SHAPIRO: The NPR/Kaiser/Harvard poll found that about seven in 10 think it's at least somewhat likely that they'd get better health care if their medical records were computerized. But Blendon says most don't believe one of Mr. Obama's key points.

Prof. BLENDON: The overwhelming majority of Americans don't think electronic medical record will either save their family or the country money. In fact, they expect more likely to see it - costs go up than go down.

SHAPIRO: The poll also showed that Americans doubt such records would remain confidential. Seventy-six percent said it's at least somewhat likely that an unauthorized person would get access to records placed online. Still, most Americans say we probably should have electronic medical records.

Mollyann Brodie, the Kaiser Family Foundation's polling director, thinks that's because Americans have a lot of experience now with computerized information and accept it with all its risks.

Ms. MOLLYANN BRODIE (Polling Director, Kaiser Family Foundation): People do their banking. They certainly do shopping these days by electronic means. And so in any of those cases you find people concerned about their privacy, but people are still doing it. They see enough of an upside for the convenience or for any other reason.

SHAPIRO: There are other areas, the poll suggests, where people aren't so ready to go along with changes in health care. Like on the issue who decides what treatment is best for a patient. The poll shows that people have a lot of trust in their own doctors. Robert Blendon says nearly two-thirds responded that their doctor is already taking steps to keep down the cost of their medical care.

Prof. BLENDON: The expert community that has been advising the president and the Congress feels there's a lot of evidence that people receive treatments that they don't benefit from and they receive treatments or tests that are more expensive when there are other alternatives. At the moment, this doesn't resonate with the general public. That's not their experience with their own physician.

SHAPIRO: The stimulus bill approved by Congress in February included more than a billion dollars for research to compare how well specific drugs, medical devices, surgeries and other treatments work. A panel of experts would make recommendations about things like is surgery or physical therapy the best way to treat a certain kind of back pain? Is one cancer treatment is better than another?

In the our poll, a majority supports such a panel - until the pollsters suggest the members would be appointed by government. Then, says Mollyann Brodie, people worry that their doctors would lose control over their health decisions.

Ms. BRODIE: People are really trusting of their individual doctors, and a lot of experts might say that that's, you know, misplaced trust, that the doctors don't have all the information they need. But it is the individual doctors that the public most trusts to make these decisions.

SHAPIRO: Opponents of health care change can often play off the public's fear of losing that kind of personal relationship with doctors. Brodie says the new poll suggests that to win over the public, any change in health care will have to keep a patient's own doctor at the center of decisions about treatment.

Joseph Shapiro, NPR News.

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