Wal-Mart announced today that it’s joining the digital medical records race. With Obama designating $19 billion of the stimulus package to digitizing this leap, it’s no wonder the most powerful retailer in the world has decided to join the ranks of the most powerful tech companies–including Google, Microsoft and IBM–to solve this behemoth challenge, as well as try to cash in.
Wal-Mart’s pitch: who better to tackle this expensive, beastly undertaking than the low-cost, high efficiency aficionados from Bentonville? Its partnering up with Dell and eClinicalWorks (a software company) to target the digitization of small medical practices. It’s no small coincidence that Sam’s Club already has a direct link to doctors–roughly 200,000 of them–through its memberships. However, right now it looks like the cost of the service is extremely pricey: available in the spring, it will range from $10,000 to $25,000 per physician, along with a roughly $5,000 yearly fee.
Meanwhile, last week Google just announced it’s stepping up its free Google Health medical records service, which launched in May, by allowing patients to share records with friends and family. Records include everything from lab test results to prescriptions. Additionally, Google also just revealed that it’s pairing up with fellow tech powerhouse, IBM, for a software that enables people, like diabetes patients, to transfer data from glucose meters and other personal-health monitoring products directly to their Google Health records.
All of this comes on the heels of Google’s rival Microsoft, that introduced its online medical records service, called HealthVault, in 2007. Microsoft’s offering actually helps interpret records (a whole other dicey issue) in addition to the ability to share health data with family and doctors.
Although privacy watchdogs are less than psyched about these developments, it’s impossible for the new administration to ignore the gaping hole we have in our supposedly modern medical system. That’s why Obama, once again, has set the audacious goal of computerizing ALL health records within the next five years. Let’s hope one of these companies lands on the killer app: today only about 8% of hospitals in the U.S. have digital record keeping systems.