As U.S. finances switch to electronic medical records, Britain provides lessons in how to proceed, experts say President Obama and healthcare experts have touted electronic medical records as a means for physicians and other administers of care to improve their performance, increase efficiency and achieve cost reductions. The 2009 federal stimulus bill included provisions aimed at spurring hospitals and clinics to rapidly implement electronic health records, and billions of dollars is allocated toward such a goal.

However, the shift to EHR can prove to be a daunting and unproductive operation. That was the conclusion of Britain's National Health Service, which last week announced it would drastically alter its course of action as it worked to make the change from paper to electronic medical records.

The NHS is Britain's state-funded healthcare service, and the World Health Organization ranks it as one of the top 20 health systems in the world. The NHS unveiled in 2002 a plan to modernize its medical records system, a project it budgeted at $19 billion and hailed as the "world's biggest civil information technology program."

The NHS' latest announcement, however, comes as a stark reminder of the difficulties nations face as they work to improve performance and cut healthcare costs with the help of modern technological systems. Healthcare experts contend the British government made crucial missteps in its implementation of its own EHR program, mistakes U.S. officials are keen to avoid as the government prepares to allocate billions of dollars to healthcare institutions across the U.S., The New York Times reports.

The British government said it intends to overhaul its own approach to the EHR system. The Department of Health affirmed it is shifting its plan, and will allow local governments more decision-making powers.

"We need to move on from a top down approach and instead provide information systems driven by local decision-making," the Department of Health said in a statement. "This is the only way to make sure we get value for money and that the modern NHS meets the needs of patients."

In the U.S., David J. Brailer, the national coordinator for health information technology under President George W. Bush, told The Times the British government failed to actively engage local communities.

"The British government treated it as a big procurement program, putting out bids, selecting contractors, picking winners and concentrating their bets," he affirmed. "They crushed what had been a pretty vigorous health information technology marketplace in Britain."

Other experts contend the U.S. approach is different, as the government stresses hospitals and other healthcare providers hoping to receive government incentives for implementing EHR systems must demonstrate "meaningful use," allowing doctors and caregivers to essentially draw up their own courses of action.

Regardless, with billions of federal dollars at stake, experts are increasingly observing to determine whether the U.S. EHR program becomes a success and helps to improve patient care and reduce costs.

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