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Students predict the future of health records

In a "war game" exercise, students at four top business schools predict bumps and consolidation on the path toward electronic health records.

It's hard to predict just how the effort to move medical records from paper to digital will shape up.

That said, a collection of business students recently gave it their best shot. As part of an annual "war game" exercise, students from such schools as Penn's Wharton School of Business took on the roles of key industry players in an effort to imagine how the battle to digitize America's health records will play out.

Among their predictions: entrenched interests will slow change, industry players will have to consolidate, and the financial pressure will need to be increased to get the industry to fully move to digital records.

"Adoption will come at a much slower speed than I think people would like," said Leonard Fuld, the consultant who organizes the yearly war games event. "Entrenched interests will resist electronic medical records for a much longer time."

Even if the intransigence abates, the industry will be able to move only so fast, Fuld said.

"If truly they gain momentum to move ahead, there's actually going to be a manpower shortage to make all that happen," Fuld said, echoing an issue raised in the first part of CNET News' three-day special report on the digital records push.

One of the other predictions is that the massive flow of dollars into this space will spur merger activity.

"It's almost a foregone conclusion there is going to be some mergers within the marketplace," Fuld said, saying that the students believed that the health care-specific tech companies such as Allscripts and Cerner might be attractive to larger firms wanting a piece of the action.

"They can't do this alone," Fuld said.

The war game exercise featured students from four schools: Penn's Wharton School of Business, the Columbia University School of Business, MIT's Sloan School of Management, and Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management

Fuld said students' past predictions on other topics have often proved prescient.

Below is a short video Fuld's organization produced with excerpts from the April event.