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The $30B healthcare tech gamble

MarketWatch, June 2, 2011

The aim of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act was simple: Make it so that any patient can walk into any emergency room in the U.S. and have their entire medical history summoned instantly, via computer. Not only could doctors save lives by getting quicker access to information, they could avoid costly duplication of efforts when it came to diagnostic tests and X-rays. Under the 2009 stimulus program, the government would pony up $30 billion to get the ball rolling. Today, the health-care industry is spending billions to create electronic health records, but the much-vaunted goal of quick access to patient information may never come to pass. Some critics warn that the program has gotten off on the wrong foot, and that the thousands of new systems ultimately may never be able to communicate with one another, turning the initiative into a $30 billion boondoggle. Yet $64 million in stimulus money already has been dispensed to some Medicaid providers who were early adopters, and still larger chunks of cash are due to follow this month, despite shortcomings in the program.