Health-care reform is a hot-button issue for which the solutions are many and the compromises difficult to achieve. There is, however, one reform that both sides seem to think should be implemented: electronic health records.
Will it ultimately save money? I'm not really sure, but it's pretty clear a lot of companies are going to make a buck in the process of trying.
Money, and then more money
Setting up an electronic medical records system isn't cheap, especially compared with the cost of the pen and paper that doctors can use as an alternative. To try to spur things along, the stimulus bill last winter included money to help doctors and hospitals set up their systems.
In the new wave of health-care reform, additional incentives are being bandied about in the bills before Congress to increase the use of electronic health records. For instance, Medicare Advantage providers such as Humana
All this financial encouragement is great news for the companies that make systems to keep track of electronic medical records.
Everyone's in on the act
In addition to the usual suspects of Quality Systems, Allscripts-Misys Health care Solutions, Cerner, and athenahealth, which were setting up doctors and hospitals with electronic health record systems before the government started waving around $1,000 bills, there's a growing list of traditional IT companies getting in on the act.
To make the sales easier for small doctors' offices, Dell and eClinicalWorks have teamed up with Wal-Mart's
Hoping for a free lunch
A few companies could benefit from this move to electronic medical records, and they might even have a positive effect on lowering the cost of health care. Google
The only problem is, who the heck is going to type in all that information from his or her doctor?
If, on the other hand, the doctor was willing to do the work getting it into electronic form, then it's just a matter of exporting the information from the doctor's system into these websites.
Once the records are all in one place, the potential savings are endless. You could reduce the risk of complications by getting alerts on your phone that tell you take your medication or get it refilled. You could easily send data to your new doctor so that you don't need to repeat certain tests. The list goes on.
Tread lightly, Fools
A big problem at this point is that the money designated for doctors requires that the systems have "meaningful use," but the definition of the term still hasn't been decided, and thus providers are a little up in the air.
The bigger problem is that the electronic-health-record companies have already been discovered -- Stock Advisor pick Quality Systems, for instance, has risen by more than 60% since the presidential election, enough to beat the S&P 500 by a whopping 50 points. That kind of performance indicates to me that, yes, companies are going to make a lot of money in the coming years, but much of those future sales are already baked into the price.
Todd Wenning has an idea for an undiscovered small-cap health-care stock.