Digital medical debate - Fox29 WFLX TV, West Palm Beach, FL-news & weather

Digital medical debate

LOS ANGELES (FOX NEWS) - Billions of your tax dollars are headed toward a program aimed at updating patient records with the hope of saving your money and your life in the future.

New Obama Administration rules require hospitals and physicians to convert millions of patient files to digital records. "A big part of where the government is going is to try to make the data flow more freely amongst providers and hospitals, so that your data goes with you," explained  Dr. Michael Swiernik, UCLA Director of Medical Informatics.

The new mandate applies to health information beginning with a patient's weight, blood pressure, prescriptions and allergies.

Results, advocates say, are lower costs, better care and improved safety. "It'll make sure that any medicines that I prescribe for them, don't contradict with current medicines that they're on," said Dr. Jeffrey Feit with Page Memorial Hospital. "Those are all things that I would have had to remember to do when I was doing things on paper. Now, the computer reminds me each time."

To help defray the cost, the feds will hand out $19 billion in stimulus money. Providers, who meet government-imposed deadlines, get higher federal reimbursements for up to five years.

Those who don't make the switch by 2015 get docked up to three percent.

Some worry smaller hospitals can't afford the penalty and lack upfront money to make the transition, so either patients or providers help bridge the gap. "It doesn't pay for the cost of putting it in or running it, but it does help defray a little of that cost, and you don't get it back until a few years after you get it in," said Swiernik.

So how much will the $19 billion plan cost you? (Taxpayers' Calculator)

If you earn less than $15,000, the digital conversion will cost you less than a dollar. If you earn up to $50,000, you pay $31 and $237 if you earn up to $200,000.

Under the reimbursement program, doctors can receive more than $100,000 from Medicare and Medicaid and hospitals are eligible for millions.

While most agree this is long overdue, critics wonder why the public has to pay for it as patients and taxpayers.

Supporters say, sometimes you have to spend money to save money and that is what this incentive does.

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