If you’ve been to a new doctor’s office lately, you may have had the experience of having the medical assistant use a computer to record all of your symptoms and complaints. It’s also quite likely that the doctor also used a computer to make his or her notes, order tests and perhaps even fax your prescription directly to your pharmacy. Welcome to the world of electronic medical records, also known as EMRs.
As we begin to rely on technology more and more, it seems inevitable that we’d eventually develop electronic medical records. Some organizations have embraced them wholeheartedly, while other doctors resist using EMRs. In addition, patients are divided between loving the convenience of these new systems and worrying about their privacy. But what are the pros and cons of using EMRs?
In theory, EMRs would reduce medical errors. Doctors have infamously horrible handwriting, and an electronic record would eliminate any problems due to legibility. An error could still be made by checking the wrong box in a form for example, but EMRs have programs in place to help catch these types of errors. On the other hand, EMRs can be too limiting in the case of patients who have multiple conditions or whose conditions don’t fit neatly into the record’s pre-established criteria.
In addition, the volume of paper medical records can grow considerably over time until they becomes quite bulky. Paper degrades and there’s the ongoing problem of increasing storage requirements. EMRs, on the other hand, can always be stored in a small amount of space.
Paper medical records are also subject to loss from fire, flood damage or other emergency. While EMRs may also fall prey to such hazards, it’s easier to backup electronic data and store it off site so that it can be recovered in the event of a disaster.
When a patient’s records are in paper form, it can be harder to get copies of all documents to the various sites where they are needed. When the records are contained in an EMR, the information can be more easily accessed. On the other hand, there is, at present, no standardization among EMRs. If you use providers who aren’t part of the same system and use different EMR formats, it can be hard to transfer information from one record to another.
Access to an EMR is also a major privacy issue. Patients worry that computer systems can be hacked and wireless networks aren’t always secure. For this reason, it’s far easier to steal information from an EMR than from a paper medical record. Patients also worry that sensitive medical data could be used inappropriately, such as when applying for a job or admission to college. While it’s against the law to discriminate, when it comes to this type of information, once it’s been seen, it can’t be forgotten. As medical information becomes more advanced – including genetic information, for example – people have even more reason to worry that the information will wind up in the wrong hands.
Finally, when a health care provider is busy entering information into an EMR, it can be easy to ignore the patient or reduce the patient interview to a series of questions designed to allow the doctor to tick off the appropriate boxes. The practice of medicine is still an art, and some patient advocates argue that EMRs could detract from the human side of the equation.
The author writes for Eat Healthy Live Healthy, an online resource that helps you lead a more healthy life. It covers many topics, including nutrient density.