While the push is on for mass adoption of e-medical record systems in the U.S., clinicians in many other countries are already accustomed to using digital health records in the care of their patients. What can we learn from each other?In general, the use of health IT tools are often most prevalent in countries with government-run healthcare systems and also in nations where there are large and growing populations of older people, said Blair Butterfield, VP of international development e-health solutions at GE Healthcare in an interview with InformationWeek.
"Many countries advanced in their use of health IT are nations that are already facing demographic challenges that we'll soon also be facing in the U.S." said Butterfield. And that's an aging population of Baby Boomers.
Asian countries, including Singapore and Hong Kong, are among "aggressive users" of health IT, Butterfield said. Those nations also happen to be faced with large populations of older people, he said.
In some of those countries, they refer to their aging Baby Boomers as "the Silver Tsunami," he said.
The use of health IT tools in those countries are often aimed at helping to get a better handle on managing elderly patients and their chronic illnesses "without breaking the bank," he said.
Other places outside the U.S. where the use of health IT tools is prevalent are nations where healthcare is predominately government run--where using e-medical records and other technologies are more or less mandated because the government pays for services or employs providers.
Many Nordic countries are among advanced users of health IT, said Butterfield. About 80% of healthcare funding in Nordic countries comes from public sources, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
Of course, in the U.S.--through its Medicare and Medicaid programs--the government is also the largest payer of healthcare, but still the country's healthcare system is free-market.
Even with the government's upcoming meaningful use rules, the so-called "mandates" are theoretically optional.
But if you're an U.S. healthcare provider who doesn't adopt health IT within the next few years, not only will you lose out on cashing in on once-in-a-lifetime $20 billion-plus reward program from the feds, you'll also eventually be facing financial penalties and an array of other competitive disadvantages.
Nonetheless, while use of e-health records is frequently more common in many other countries, many of those systems "are very basic" compared to the technologies available in the U.S., Butterfield said.
"Those countries are looking at the U.S. for evidence-based and clinical decision support systems, which for the most part aren't implemented in those places yet," he said.
"They're looking to us as role models, and we can also learn from them," he said.
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