As a health journalist, one of the topics that has always been near and dear to my heart is the lack of interoperable electronic medical records. That might sound super dry, but it's very important and one of the greatest failures of the health system. Here's why:
• Your medical records contain important information about your health. When you walk into a hospital that can't easily retrieve this information from another hospital, then you're being treated as a perfect stranger.
• This isn't a technical hurdle. It's about hospitals' bottom line (and by association, the makers of the medical records). Some hospitals are fighting tooth and nail to keep patients in their network. The fear is that sharing makes it too easy for people to leave.
• Billions of dollars in federal money was set aside to provide incentives (and later, penalties) for data-sharing between hospitals and clinics.
• The biggest EMR systems own a massive chunk in the market. It makes it harder for smaller, more interoperable players to make a dent.
But after years of patient advocates desperately calling attention to this issue, the federal trade commission is now investigating competition (or the lack of it) among EMRs. Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said this week at an American Bar Association conference: "Among the questions we are asking is whether a dominant health care provider could take advantage of the lack of compatibility among EHR systems to further consolidate their already strong position."