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Physicians as Economic Powerhouses and Tech Laggards

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, April 16, 2014

They generate $1.6 trillion in economic activity, but as a class, physicians are slow to upgrade and adopt technologies that would make them—and the nation's healthcare system—more efficient and less costly.


fax machine

The general public is getting some mixed signals these days from physicians.

The American Medical Association came out with a report this week that says that physicians generate about $1.6 trillion in economic activity, support 10 million jobs, and are "vital economic drivers at state and national levels."

I won't quibble with that figure. Physicians are among the most highly educated, highly trained, highly respected, and highly compensated professionals in our country. It would only make sense that we trust them to have a key role in supervising the nearly 20% of the economy that the healthcare sector occupies.

On the other hand, we have another report this week about efforts to wean doctors away from fax machines. That's correct: Fax machines. I had to double check the article to make sure it wasn't a satirical piece from The Onion.

Why are some of these "vital economic drivers" still using 1980s technology? Did they get a special closeout deal on thermal paper down at the office supply store during the Y2K scare? Perhaps it was part of a package deal that came with a beeper, a mimeograph, and a rotary phone.

At many physicians' offices patients still have to fill out paper forms and medical histories every time they go for an office visit. Take-out pizza joints and auto lube shops use more sophisticated, consumer-centric IT than many physicians, because most retailers are light-years ahead when it comes to customer satisfaction and delivering value.

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