How Privatizing Medical Records Will Harm You

Imagine you’re a doctor at a clinic in New York City. You have a patient come in who’s in New York City on business. Their normal doctor is hundreds of miles away in California.

In order to treat the patient, you need access to their medical files from their doctor in California. But, you learn that those files are stored in a digital program that your clinic doesn’t use, making it next to impossible to get access to them, and to treat your patient.

This isn’t just some hypothetical situation. It’s a scenario that’s playing out all across America today thanks to the conservative ideology that says our public spaces, our commons, which should include our healthcare system, should instead be in the hands of for-profit companies.

All across the country, doctors and healthcare workers are finding it increasingly hard to treat patients, because of electronic health record systems that don’t share information with competing systems. The systems, which were installed to help reduce costs and improve patient care, have, in many cases, made patient care a nightmare.

In fact, as The New York Times points out, “two recent studies have found that fewer than half of the nation’s hospitals can transmit a patient care document, while only 14 percent of physicians can exchange patient data with outside hospitals or other providers.” But, the companies that make these systems are doing just fine, raking in billions of dollars in profit.

That’s where Epic Systems come in. Epic Systems is the Comcast of the electronic health records industry. Its systems hold the health records of nearly half of all Americans, and its founder, Judith R. Faulkner, is worth a staggering $2.3 billion. But, a report by the RAND Corporation found that Epic’s health records system makes it “challenging and costly for hospitals” to share information with other health record systems.

And then there’s the kicker that, when it is possible to share information, Epic charges fees for hospital and doctors to share that information. Those fees prove to be especially costly for hospitals, clinics, and doctors that serve rural and poor communities, and have smaller operating budgets. But they’re added profits for Ms. Faulkner and the rest of Epic’s executives.

So, while Epic Systems is getting richer and richer, doctors are finding it harder and harder to care for their patients. This is the classic tale of why privatization of the commons is bad for America. Rather than instantly turn things over to the highest bidder, we should instead be asking ourselves when it is and isn’t appropriate to privatize something.

It definitely isn’t appropriate to privatize when that something is part of the commons. Things like healthcare, education, roads, and even voting systems should never be put in the control of giant corporations that only care about making a buck. In the case of Epic and the privatization of Americans’ healthcare records, our government had a chance to step in, but didn’t.

During the debate over Obamacare, lawmakers in Washington could have established new national standards for the sharing of patient information, and cut out the need for private corporations like Epic to step in. They didn’t. Instead, Republicans thought the privatization route would be better for Americans. We’ve seen how well that turned out.

Even Faulkner, worth billions thanks to the decision to let private companies step in, told The New York Times that, “I’m not sure why the government doesn’t want to do some of the things that would be required for everybody to march together.” It’s because our lawmakers, almost exclusively Republican lawmakers, are addicted to letting private corporations take over our commons, so that they can add to their already staggering bottom-lines.

It doesn’t matter if our roads, healthcare, education systems, or even our right to vote suffer as a result. As long as those corporations are making money, that’s all that matters.

Despite what many in Washington might tell you, privatization is not the answer to all of our problems. In many cases, it’s the cause of them.

Comments's picture 8 years 24 weeks ago

I have to somewhat disagree that people are responsible with public money. I was in the US Airforce and worked later at Sandia National Labs. The people I worked with were very wasteful with taxpayers money. Being lazy, non productive and neglectful.

RichardofJeffersonCity's picture
RichardofJeffer... 8 years 24 weeks ago


pimpinandpie's picture
pimpinandpie 8 years 24 weeks ago

Sounds like a moral issue with the management not govt. However, I also fully understand that 'whistle blower' protection is sorely lacking with the Obama admin(Snowden, Manning, Asange, etc...). So it's not like you could've said anything about it without expecting a huge backlash. Based on some of the examples I've read over the last decades, public abuse with taxpayer's money is usually a result of the refusal of govt to protect whistle blowers. The system is rigged for malfeasance(unless there's some political alterior motive justifying a fight against malfeasance) and rigged against whistle blowers...

BARBARA NECKER 8 years 24 weeks ago

Well, corporate abuse of social systems is also rampant. It may be close to impossible to come up with commons that deny abusers access to the commons, but we definitely should be searching for ways to do just that.

richinfolsom 8 years 24 weeks ago

Information is power. Information technology is absolute power. The Borg collective (reference Star Trek for those who don't know) is in its infancy with its reshuffling world wide economics with solutions to shared information services and mindless Facebook like entertainment for the brain dead. Why in the age of massive technological resources our inability to communicate - whether signing up for medical insurance, accessing medical records or reliably casting a vote - is massively unreliable? Banks, Stock Houses, and oil companies can track every penny.

And though we live with instantaneous, world wide communication with throw away, hand held, high speed devices, the broad band of stupid information consumes the masses like opiates.

The model of capitalism is built on fear - with the promise of assuring the answer to assured calamity. The modern day jesters are those who secured our medical records with their proprietary and very profitable keys, just as they asked us to trust the vote counting software that determines nothing less than our freedom - redeemable to the highest bidder.

douglas m 8 years 24 weeks ago

Make it law that all doctors and hospitals give you a media stick/credit card with all medical history of all records at discharge or you dont pay them for their services. Also people need to carry it on them. If diagnosed correctly insurance companies save money by early treatment.

Without a copy of your medical records at all times your life is in danger of misdiagnosis ar each hospital because they always have to start over from scratch without all the information.

It is vital to carry it too just in case you go down in public where no one knows you.

What treatment and how does the ambulance treat or isolate a Possible serious infectious contagent or harmless cold.

We are all in danger with deadly diseases if first responders dont have all the history and hospitals are not reporting possible infectious deadly diseases instantly.

If we have to wait for late information the center for disease control has no power to act in time to prevent anything.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 24 weeks ago

Thank you Thom, for bringing up one of my pet topics: privatization. Yep! Gotta keep that parasitic class of billionaire welfare queens fat and happy, while everyone else is made to sacrifice and suffer for their ill-gotten gains. I’m infuriated at Obama for allowing this deadly-ass bullshit to prevail. When it comes to healthcare, privatization kills.

Ain’t it nice, knowing that we live in a system where someone’s profits are a higher priority than your health?! So what must we do to get these parasites off our backs?! - AIW

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 24 weeks ago

I'd just like to add that were profits not the main objective of our healthcare system, these geniuses would have figured out how to access everyone's vital health info quickly and easily, while keeping it confidential. It just wasn't a big enough priority.

God bless America's 1% and the hell with the rest of us. Tra-lah-lah. - AIW

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