Do chips make us healthier?

...not if they are microchips that hold your medical information.  According to new American research reported today, electronic health records - touted by policymakers in Britain and America as a way to improve the quality of health care - failed to improve care delivered in routine doctor visits. 

"Of 17 measures of quality assessed, electronic health records made no difference in 14 measures, according to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.  The study by researchers at Stanford and Harvard Universities was based on a survey of 1.8 billion physician visits in 2003 and 2004. Electronic health records were used in 18 percent of them.  In two areas, better quality was associated with electronic records, while worse quality was found in one area, they said." - Reuters

This is slightly disturbing when you consider how much money the government has spent on an NHS IT project to create a centralised database of NHS records (upwards of £12bn at the latest count).  Not only is the project massively over-budget, but this new research does raise a question about whether one key aspect of the new system will deliver any real benefit to patient's in terms of better clinical care. 

It might be more convenient not to have hard-copies of medical records sent all over the country when people move GP, but we didn't need billions of taxpayers money spent on a national IT database.  Giving everyone an NHS-branded, damage-resistent 2gb memory stick on a key-fob would have done the job just as well.  And the individual would own the data, which would aid privacy. 

Clearly too simple a solution for our politicians.

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