The Obama administration will be devoting billions of dollars to promote electronic medical records (EMR) for doctors. Today, EMR vendors run in and out of doctors’ offices trying to hawk their software. Each one claims to be the holy grail of electronic records. I admit that the concept seems intoxicating.
The promise of a paperless office is certainly seductive. The notion of physicians and patients having access to their medical records from any computer would improve medical quality and efficiency. Every doctor knows how frustrating it is to see a patient in the emergency room when the relevant medical records are sitting in the primary doctor’s office or in a hospital across town. Conversely, EMR permits the primary physician, who may not have been the hospital treating physician, to be easily updated after hospital discharge when the patient returns to his office. Many patients I see today in my office don’t know their medications and can’t recall prior illnesses or even operations. EMR solves this issue.
EMR also permits easy analysis of patient data to track important medical benchmarks including colon cancer screening, Pap smears, immunizations, mammograms and other preventative tests. Doctors like me who still use paper, rely on old fashioned methods to track who is due for a screening colonoscopy. EMR technology could permit our office to contact all patients who reach the milestone age of 50 alerting them that their colon cancer screening experience is beckoning. This would be superior to our current manual mail & call technique. EMR also eliminates the frustration of a missing medical chart. Electronic files are also more current, since data is entered much faster than paper reports. Sending medical records to other physicians’ offices could be accomplished with a keystroke, which traditionally can take weeks. EMR also eliminates the inscrutable penmanship of physicians, which at times needed CIA code breakers to decipher.
With EMR, patients could have their complete medical data, including EKGs and actual x-ray images on a personal flash key. With this technology, a doctor on a cruise ship could see your chest x-ray from 2 weeks ago.
Over time, EMR saves money by improving office efficiency, reducing repeating medical tests and reducing postage expenses.
If this system promises physicians a medical utopia, then why doesn’t every doctor sign up? The New England Journal of Medicine reported in their April 16, 2009 issue only 17% of physicians is using some degree of EMR in their offices. Hospitals are much further behind in acquiring these systems. Chances are that your physician hasn’t pulled the EMR trigger yet either.
Michael Kirsch, MD is a full time practicing physician and freelance author. He writes about the joys and challenges of medical practice including controversies in the doctor-patient relationship, medical ethics and measuring medical quality. When he is not writing, he is performing colonoscopies. For more articles on this subject, visit: http://mdwhistleblower.blogspot.com/