Going Green: Another ROI for the EMR

A year ago last February my life almost came to an end.  My wife and I were driving down a country lane when out of the corner of my right eye, I saw a flash of green.  At that exact moment my wife uttered "Oh my God".  I saw her cover her head and then BAM; my windshield literally exploded, the glass blew out of the sunroof and the car's roof came crushing down on our heads.

image_00051 Stunned, covered by glass, and suffering a few minor cuts we were able to exit the car to see what had happened.  A 60 foot Douglas Fir on the side of the road that had been loosened by a wind storm earlier in the day decided to fall just as we were driving by.  It hit squarely across the top of the car just in front of the sunroof.  Worse yet, a 3-inch diameter branch, broken and pointed like a spear, had come straight down through the roof stopping just inches from the car's center console.  A little bit to the right or left and it might have easily image_00053punctured my head or chest or that of my wife.   Needless to say, we now have a healthy respect for the power of trees (and well- built cars).  Maybe that's why I feel so compelled to share this other story about trees.

Did you ever think how many trees are mowed down each year to supply paper for the healthcare industry?  Doctors at George Washington University Medical Faculty Associates in Washington, D.C. estimate that converting to a fully electronic medical record system (from Microsoft partner Allscripts) is saving about 2000 pieces of paper per physician per year.  Assuming that figure is correct (and it seems really low to me) and assuming 700,000 or so physicians practicing in the US; converting 100 percent of docs to electronic records could save 1.4 billion pieces of paper each year.  According to HowStuffWorks.com an average tree yields about 80,000 sheets of paper.  Therefore, if every doctor in America was fully electronic, according to the figures provided, we could save about 17,500 trees a year! And that's just from American doctors who go electronic.  Imagine if the entire industry went that way!  There's a cool web video on this topic if you'd like to learn more.

Whether or not my tree-saving estimates are anywhere near accurate, I think you get the point.  At a time when "getting green" is absolutely the right thing to do for the planet, perhaps there's another benefit besides improved care quality and patient safety for converting to electronic records--saving trees animaged saving the planet.  And before you even go there, yes I realize that such a conversion would mean increased use of electricity, plastics, heavy metals, and other factors that make the environmental impact and green ROI a little fuzzier.  But if you share my healthy respect for trees, then you must agree that saving them is a good thing to do.

Next week I'll be making two trips to the "other Washington", Washington, D.C.; first for the Consumer Health World Conference and later for the World Healthcare  Innovation and Technology Congress and a special meeting at the National Cancer Institute.  In between those trips, I'll be visiting with customers and providing a keynote address at our Microsoft Healthcare Executive Forum event in Sonoma, California.  I'll be sure to provide a few updates while on the road.

Bill Crounse, MD   Senior Director, Worldwide Health     Microsoft Corporation