My Turn: Are we ready for e-medical records?

The following opinion piece, which was written by Allen Gilbert, the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont, appeared in the Burlington Free Press today:

Allen Gilbert Vermont is about to take a huge, expensive leap into the electronic medical records field. Every Vermonter who’s ever seen a doctor or been to the hospital will be affected.

The state’s Department of Banking, Insurance, Securities, and Health Care Administration has given the green light to Fletcher Allen Health Care to spend $89 million over three years to build an e-medical records system for its hospital and 750 affiliated physicians — about half of the state’s doctors.

And the Legislature is poised to impose a surcharge on medical claims that will raise $32 million over 10 years for Vermont Information Technology Leaders. The money will be used by the public-private group to build a statewide system linking all hospitals and physicians so patient records can be sent electronically among health care providers.

Eventually, planners say, the entire nation will be linked so our health care records can be accessed anywhere, anytime — sort of a medical records ATM system.

A digitized health records system might be a very good idea. Proponents say it will improve care and save money.

It very well might improve care. Whether it will save money, however, is still being debated. Studies of existing systems show that if there are savings, they go to insurers, not doctors or patients.

What is not a good idea, though, is to plunge into this vast, expensive undertaking without a solid plan in place that has strict standards to protect the privacy of our medical records. And that hasn’t happened.


Fletcher Allen’s system, because of its scope, will drive the design of VITL’s statewide system. Let’s hope the standards set by the Wisconsin contractor hired by Fletcher Allen are sufficient to protect Vermonters’ privacy as records travel around the state, to nearby hospitals such as Dartmouth-Hitchcock and Albany Medical, and eventually to providers anywhere in the country. The Legislature’s decision to provide VITL with $32 million means that eventually every doctor’s office in the state will be connected to this vast network.

This is a big step for us to take. Are we ready for it? Our care, our privacy, and a lot of money are at stake. So far, the planning and review envisioned in state law have not been of the rigor one might hope.

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