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Blumenthal Offers Spirited Defense of EHRs

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National coordinator for health IT Dr. David Blumenthal announced last week he would leave his post in the spring. Now, the gloves are coming off  — so to speak — in terms of his dealings with health IT skeptics.

In a question-and-answer session with reporters, Blumenthal took issue with a recent study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, which showed electronic health records did not significantly improve patient-care quality, according to an InformationWeek report.

“I don’t consider that database a very sensitive one for the kind of results that we are looking for,” Blumenthal said, according to InformationWeek. “I also would point out that it was done with data from 2005 to 2007, not with electronic health records in their modern form and not under the influence of the meaningful use requirements, which require a higher level of performance than was true of the electronic health records that were discussed.”

For health IT true believers, those are fighting words.

In a follow-up interview with InformationWeek, the study’s lead researcher Dr. Randall S. Stafford, associate professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, acknowledged the study’s data does precede Blumenthal’s tenure as health IT coordinator. But, he suggested, just because EHRs have become more widespread recently does not mean they have become more effective.

“I have no doubt that changes are beginning to occur and that more recent data may begin to show some gradual progress,” Stafford told InformationWeek. “Unfortunately, past history suggests that these changes will be slow in coming.”

Blumenthal, who said he used EHRs while a private physician, offered a spirited defense of  them.

“The idea that in 21st-century America, we will withhold from patients the benefit of electronic systems when the rest of the world is zooming ahead with ever more powerful uses of information for the rest of their lives strikes me as inconceivable and also irresponsible,” he said.

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