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Would Patients Pony Up?

My physician is a master at getting to the point. So I turned the tables on him. “How come you don’t have an electronic medical record?” I wondered aloud. He grinned and said, “We have good reasons and bad reasons.”

Like most physicians, my internist’s group practice is semi-automated, with a practice management computer system and paper charts. They have a barebones Web site (with links to, of all places, Dr. Koop.com of dot-com notoriety!), and under “contact us” reside phone numbers, not e-mail addresses. This kind of semi-automation has its downsides for patients. Reaching clinicians can be a frustrating exercise in phone tag. And those precarious, well-worn paper charts do not inspire confidence.

Dr. G. did not have time to elaborate on the good and bad reasons. But he didn’t need to. He and I don’t talk about these issues, but I know internal medicine specialists do not have extra cash to burn on an EMR. And the practice runs like clockwork now; they manage to get me into the exam room right on schedule every time.

Now, according to a recent Accenture survey, U.S. consumers would love for their physicians to adopt computerized patient records. Two-thirds of consumers said that electronic health records could figure in their selection of a physician, and half said they’d pay for the service—if the price were reasonable.

If these sentiments are accurate, why not create some mechanisms for consumers to put their money where their cursors are? Nothing as crass as a glass jar for EMR tips, but maybe something as simple as an earmark on our copay. Kind of like the check-off box on the income tax form. If you’d like a small portion of your copay to help your physician bring your clinical information into the modern era, check here.

Like the people in the survey, I too am willing—theoretically—to select a physician based on his or her technology. However, I’m sticking with Dr. G, paper charts and all. He’s just too good a physician. But if a health plan—or somebody—devised a meaningful financial transfer mechanism to help him automate, I’d ante up in a flash.

—Gary Baldwin