Public Health Aspects of HIT

The New York Times included an overview of health information technology developments in yesterday’s business section. Because I am not a public health expert, I generally have looked at the advantages of electronic health records from an individual patient’s perspective. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich reinforces this viewpoint with his “paper [records] kill” mantra.

I was struck by the section of this article that discussed how researchers hope to comb through electronic health records to find out what treatments work and which don’t. The article provides the example of Kaiser Health Plans and the Veterans Administration which discovered from a review of patient records that less expensive lovastatins work just as well as Lipitor and Zocor for many patients. (Of course, this finding occurred before Zocor lost its patent protection in June 2006.) The article quotes J. Mark Gibson, deputy director of the Center for Evidence-Based Policy at the Oregon Health and Science University who observed “The whole blockbuster model relies on prescribing a drug for a whole lot of people who don’t really need it.”

The article also explains that such studies also may lead to fine tuning the dosage of potentially harmful medications such as anti-coagulants, for particular types of patients.