CHARLESTON, W.Va. - In this day of electronics, computers, instant messaging, and instant communication, everyday technological tools can be both a blessing and a curse. As these electronic tools move into the health care community, there are both positive benefits and negative consequences.
The government in its infinite wisdom has decided that electronic medical records will be of benefit to health care -- helping patients and reducing costs.
Unfortunately, there are many problems at the present level of electronic medical records. As a physical therapist, I am frequently bombarded through email and telephone calls with pitches to purchase an electronic medical record system I can use with my patients. Many positive factors are cited, include ease of use and low cost.
Experts believe electronic medical or health information records will improve communication and understanding of the patient's previous health needs and the care provided. This should reduce medication side effects and negative interactions and prevent one treatment from negatively affecting another.
But there are several major problems. One of the biggest is compatibility. I may have a very expensive electronic medical record system that is not compatible with anyone else's system. There is no central source for these records. There may be a central source with one provider group of physicians and a different central source at the hospital that you frequent; however, each cannot interact electronically with the other.
If you are out of town and need health care, there is no way for that electronic system to communicate with your hometown system to pull up your previous health care record. There is also a privacy issue in that people do not want others to have access to a central source. Those they would deny access might be their employer, the government, their health insurance company or their disability insurance or life insurance provider.
Another area of concern is the lack of a table of contents or index to allow someone to access specific parts of the health record; no standard for organizing the information; and often no summary. The records could be organized under diagnosis, chronologically or by specialist.
One of the biggest problems is whether the physician you are visiting has the time to access, read and assimilate the information to make it usable.