One virtue of the pickle we’re in is that it's going to provide cover for the infusion of federal cash we need to finally get health care IT going. Everyone’s who’s looked at this knows that doctors in particular typically won’t invest in electronic medical records and seamless connections with others in the system because most practices are small shops that won’t see a payback for what can be a costly investment; the benefits are really for the system as a whole. Because of this dynamic (fueled as well by the fact that many docs who were early movers on IT felt they got burned and wasted their money), Newt Gingrich told me a few years ago we might need $50 billion from the feds to prime the pump on health care IT. He figured we’d have to find some national security rationale to make this politically viable, just as Eisenhower did with the interstate highway system. At the time, Newt thought the threat of bioterrorism in the wake of 9/11 might be one potent argument for why we needed to get docs and providers on a sophisticated, integrated IT grid.
Flash forward to today, though, and the economic emergency has done the trick. Health care IT can make for good stimulus, and helps get in place the things we’ll need to boost the value we get from the health sector over time. My hunch is that folks on all sides will share the Obama team’s view that this is the moment to make it happen. If done right the long term benefits should be huge.