What The U.S. Can Learn From Denmark About Health Care

President Obama touted the merits of computerizing health records last year. “This will cut waste, eliminate red tape, and reduce the need to repeat expensive medical tests,” said Obama. “It won’t just save billions of dollars and thousands of jobs — it will save lives by reducing the deadly but preventable medical errors that pervade our health care system,” he added. Obama pledged $19.5 billion from the stimulus to begin to computerize medical records by 2014. The funds will be used to provide incentives to doctors and hospitals that accept Medicare and Medicaid patients. Ninety percent of physicians and hospitals do accept Medicare and Medicaid patients. Kathleen Sebelius, Health and Human Services secretary, calls the plans to move to electronic record-keeping “one of the linchpins” of changing the country’s health care system.

The U.S. can learn much from Denmark which began to computerize its health records a decade ago. Currently, almost all Danish primary care physicians and almost half of Danish hospitals use electronic records. A Commonwealth Fund study published last month said the Danish information system is the world’s most efficient. It saves doctors an average of 50 minutes a day in administrative work. A 2008 report from the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society estimated that electronic records saved Denmark’s health system up to $120 million a year.

“Denmark is probably the most advanced country in the world that I have seen,” said Denis J. Protti, a professor of health information technology at the University of Victoria in British Columbia and an author of the Commonwealth Fund study. “Of course, it’s the same size as some of your states.”

Dr. David Blumenthal, who Obama named as national coordinator of health information technology, said the U.S. is “well behind” Denmark in using electronic health records. Studies published in The New England Journal of Medicine show that fewer than two percent of hospitals use electronic records in all departments.

U.S. family physicians have the highest administration costs in the developed world and “are already under strain from all the paperwork required to run an office,” said Jeff Harris of the American College of Physicians.

VA and Kaiser Permanente launch pilot program

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Kaiser Permanente launched a pilot medical data exchange program last month in San Diego using the National Health Information Network (NHIN). The pilot program connects the VA’s VistA and Kaiser’s HealthConnect programs, and allows the VA and Kaiser to exchange patient information through electronic health records. The NHIN is led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and allows records to be exchanged securely between physicians.

“The Department of Veterans Affairs and the entire administration are encouraged by the opportunities that electronic health record interoperability provides for Veterans, Service Members and their dependents,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “We are proud to join in this effort with Kaiser Permanente and to achieve the benefits of health data exchange, including improved quality, patient safety, and efficiency.”

“Instant access to critical health data can greatly improve not only the care and service for individual patients, but also reduce redundancy and waste in health care, saving precious resources for care delivery,” said John Mattison, MD, assistant medical director and chief medical information officer, Kaiser Permanente Southern California.

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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