Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Universal Electronic Medical Record System

I have an ongoing discussion with my husband about this - the need for a universal electronic medical record system. I don't think anyone really disputes the benefit we would have from such a system. The only thing I could think of is that it may be easier to access the system and there may be more breaches of individual privacy.
The potential benefits are enormous. I can't count the number of times patients come into the hospital or the emergency room with inadequate histories of their own medical care, or without a list of their medications. With a universal electronic system, there would be improved continuity of care, resulting (hopefully) in improved medical care. Not only would we have all their lab and imaging results at our fingertips, but we could get in touch with all the primary care doctors and specialists much more easily for additional information. This can be especially difficult to do if you are trying to contact a doctor at a different hospital or clinic after hours. Secondly, there would be a huge savings in health care costs. More often than not, laboratory and imaging tests are repeated unnecessarily because we don't have the results from another hospital or clinical setting or are unable to personally view imaging ourselves, such as chest x-rays or cat scans. This isn't good for the patient either, as multiple blood draws can introduce more infection or deplete already sick patients of their blood, and expose patients to more radiation than necessary.
Unfortunately, the costs to implement such a system are also enormous. The majority of hospitals still run on a paper system and of the hospitals that are on an electronic system, very few of them are 100% paperless. Moreover, these hospitals all run on separate systems. To get all hospitals on the same electronic system would be incredibly time-consuming, logistically a nightmare, and costly beyond belief. During the transition, there would probably be many records lost, confusion regarding how to access records or results and much worse and slower health care. The hospitals themselves probably all have their own systems in place already and would be reluctant to switch to yet another system, especially if they just spent all this time, effort and money to implement their own electronic system. Many hospitals would probably just want to make their system compatible with whatever universal system is being implemented, which is not ideal. And who would pay for this? The government?

Despite all the roadblocks, I still think it's a worthwhile investment, and hopefully the eventual benefits would outweigh the costs and the inconveniences and temporary lapses in health care.

1 comment:

elblot said...

Husband here - speaking as an IT professional I agree with everything in this post. While there would certainly be an enormous cost and effort to get this universally implemented, there would be powerful benefits which would have a positive impact on all of the healthcare stakeholders. I am ready, willing, and able to start working on the project!