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So with all this talk about healthcare technologies and the new budget and Health 2.0, you’d think that electronic medical records (EMRs) were on the rise. Perhaps they are, but as the Associated Press reports, fewer than 2 percent of providers have completely abandoned paper charts. Another 8 to 11 percent of hospitals have basic electronic systems in place where at least one department has converted to digital. Not exactly the tidal wave that some blogs suggest is happening…

The most common obstacle to conversion cited by the surveyed hospitals was cost — $20 million for small hospitals to $200 million for large academic centers. About three-quarters of hospitals without a computerized system said lack of capital was a barrier, 44 percent cited maintenance costs and 36 percent cited doctor resistance, according to the survey of 2,952 mostly small and medium U.S. hospitals conducted last year.

For smaller physician offices (like a single physician or small group practice), costs start at $50,000 and can easily balloon to $200,000 without breaking a sweat. This isn’t easy stuff, and unless someone starts writing large checks to these folks, you won’t see any quick adoption of electronic medical records soon. It’s an expensive and time-consuming quagmire, not a cure-all, and “solutions” like Microsoft’s HealthVault are really just a part of a complex equation that virtually everyone under-estimates.

So while some folks continue to extol the virtues of these technologies as though they are inevitable and a cure-all, they remain a tiny, tiny percentage of what most hospitals and providers offer. And for good reason, because as the article notes:

But a third of hospitals surveyed said they were unsure whether they would recoup their investment. And the Congressional Budget Office last year said the adoption of more health technology alone is “generally not sufficient to produce significant cost savings.”

We know such record keeping can help reduce documentation errors (and as a result, medical errors), but as of now, the jury is still very much out as to how quickly such record keeping systems can be implemented to help e-patients.

Read the full article: Study: Few US hospitals use digital records