Thursday, March 5, 2009

Electronic Health Records

President Obama as part of his health care reform agenda is aggressively pushing the electronic health record [EHR]. will be a major improvement to medical care and to patient safety over time. But there are two major problems that need to be overcome before the EHR will ever be fully functional – interoperability and physician documentation. By interoperability I mean that each of the companies that produce the software do so in a proprietary manner. The result is that they cannot interact. So if a patient is discharged from one hospital today and goes to another hospital’s ER tomorrow, the information from the first hospital will likely not be accessible. This must change and it appears that the federal government is attempting to have standards established for all to follow. That will be a big improvement. There are issues however as to who should set the standards – government or a multidisciplinary working group. Either way, standards are needed.
The second obstacle is that physicians find that most of the current systems actually impede productivity rather than enhance it. This is because the software creators have not spent the time necessary to understand how physician work and are intent on making the document easy to manipulate by the computer. Here is an example. Say a doctor admits a patient with pneumonia. He or she might want to insert the following into the chart: “55 year old nonsmoking male, sudden onset of high fever, shaking chills, productive cough and pain at left lower chest with inspiration. Temp 103, pulse 94, BP 128/74, abnormal breath sounds and dullness to percussion in left lower chest. Chest X-ray shows infiltrate in left lower lobe and sputum exam shows gram positive diplococcic. Diagnosis – pneumococcal pneumonia. Treatment – antibiotic.” Sorry for some “doctor speak” but in essence this is a fairly classical description of a pneumococcal pneumonia. It takes about 30 seconds to say, the same to dictate and perhaps 60 seconds to write or type these words. But to enter it into the chart as per the dictates of the software takes much longer because it requires following a long branching tree of choices. You might liken it to using Word for a document that can be read later versus Excel for a spreadsheet that can be manipulated. Physicians really dislike the extra time it takes and the fact that it is not consistent with the way they “think” about the patient and his or her problem. So they rebel and will not adopt. But this problem, like interoperability, can be overcome.
Once these two issues are resolved, the EHR can become a reality, but not before.


iapetus said...

I agree with your position from a medical perspective however have concerns about privacy issues and misuse by insurance co's.

Stephen C Schimpff, MD said...

Your concerns are valid. None of us want our health info used by others to determine if we can buy life insurance or adjust our health insurance rates. And, besides, we all consider our medical records our personal business and not any one elses.Congress did pass a bill recently that protects information to a large degree but still it is reasonable to be concerned. So we each will need to determine the trade offs. I have my medical info on a CD in my wallet. If traveling, that will be useful if I get sick. But if I have my wallet stolen....I have decided it is best to have it handy but others may feel differently.

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