Patient privacy rights are at the heart of research by a University of Virginia professor.
The Federal Stimulus Package is pumping $20 billion into the healthcare system to move it completely to electronic records, but state privacy laws may slow that down in Virginia and across America.
Electronic Medical Records (or EMRs) have been around since the 1970's, but today less than half of America's hospitals have a basic EMR system.
Virginia is one of several states with strict privacy protection for hospital patients.
"There is this idea that there may be identity fraud, in particular medical identity fraud," says University of Virginia Economics professor Amalia Miller.
While the enhanced rules should protect hospital patients in Virginia, at the same time, they could slow down vital sharing of information between hospitals.
"One of the big benefits of going electronic about sharing information could be suppressed or blocked, and this would be an unintended consequence of these strong privacy regulations," Miller says.
Miller says the investment in a widespread switch to electronic records would not only save lives, but up to $34 billion nationwide.
"It could save money by reducing costs spent on the administration of the hospital," she says, "reducing time that staff has to spend on paperwork."
Miller also says there are worries that the switch could compromise privacy.
"You can imagine with certain conditions, patients or individuals wouldn't want their insurers to know, they wouldn't want their employers to know if they're getting health insurance from their employer," says Miller.
Still she believes lawmakers can find a way to computerize records and still give patients the privacy they want.
"I think it's important for policy makers to think about the potential conflict between these goals and to navigate them together, rather than think about them in place in isolation where they might be acting against each other," Miller says.
A standard EMR system costs a hospital more than $17,000 annually per bed.
Miller says stricter privacy rules mean the system is even more costly because of the enhanced privacy filters and other design factors that must go into the system.