One of the key aspects of President Obama’s plan to make universal heath care affordable in the eyes of CNN, is through the enormous potential savings, some $80 billion, from computerizing medical records. All that needs to be worked out is the technology, security, privacy concerns, cost and getting healthcare providers to actually use it.
Yesterday, President Obama announced that the Department of Defense (DOD) will begin cooperating with the Veterans Administration (VA) to develop and launch a unified computerized healthcare record for members of the military services.
As hard as it may be to believe that such a system doesn’t now exist for the military, currently, the only records that veterans can access are outpatient pharmacy and allergy data. The paperwork needed from the DOD to get VA care has created an enormous backlog – more than 400,000 eligible veterans are currently awaiting help. The President said that this cooperation is a “first step towards creating one, unified, lifetime electronic health record for members of our armed services that will contain their administrative and medical information from the day they first enlist to the day that they are laid to rest.”
The plan is to develop and perfect the computer process before a civilian rollout – just like we did in the 60’s when Tang was developed for the space program and later rolled out for consumer consumption; military satellites being being used for consumer purposes including weather, communications, Google maps and finding your way home. The internets. And, of course, the Hummer. Yes, a far better plan to use the military than the US Public Health Service (PHS). Surely, we have learned the lesson of Tuskegee, Alabama.
Seems like a perfect plan. Congress has never denied our military money, so the development budget shouldn’t be an issue. Service members can be required to participate, so privacy issues can be silenced. Plus, the DOD has a great track record of developing highly secure, state-of-the-art systems, quickly, cheaply, efficiently and without lobbyist influence, haven’t they? And, as a political bonus, the initial five-year development target should placate critics on both sides of the aisle while allowing the promise of civilian universal healthcare to go through two more election cycles without actually needing to pass it.
When asked at a press conference in Turkey last week as to whether he was really different that George Herbert Walker Bush, President Obama described leading our government as if it were a large oil tanker that turns very slowly, but once it does, it goes straight in that direction. The realities of piloting healthcare reform must also be like the tanker. Ditto turning the economy around. Ditto regulating Wall Street. Ditto alternative energy and global warming. Ditto getting out of the wars. When one considers it, it is reasonable that it would take five-years to create and implement a unified computerized healthcare program for the military and even longer to do it for us. It is such a shame we didn’t begin early. Our hopes and need may not align with the timetable, but all of these things will take while to turn around.