July 18, 2011
Technical standards may seem arcane, but they are often powerful tools of economic development and social welfare. They can be essential building blocks for innovation and new industries. The basic software standards for the Web are striking proof.
Safety is also a potent argument for standards. Today, the matter of standards for electronic health records is raising concerns, prompting heated debate in recent meetings of representatives from medicine, industry, academia and government. The stakes, they say, could scarcely be higher. They agree that, when well designed and wisely used, digital records can deliver the power of better information to medicine, improving care and curbing costs. But computer forms, they add, can also be difficult to use, cluttered and distracting, causing more harm than good in health care.
The controversy points to the delicate balancing of interests involved when creating technical standards that inherently limit some design choices yet try to keep the door open to innovation. It also raises the question of the appropriate role for government in devising such technology requirements.