Anyone who has ever touched a computer knows that they are a blessing and a curse — a blessing when I need quick information, and lots of cursing when the machine refuses to read my mind about what I want it to do!
Electronic health records (EHRs) are slowly evolving from a curse to a blessing. If you have kept a medical appointment in the past five years, there’s a good chance that you witnessed your provider or nurse struggling to migrate your chart into a new computerized records system.
Obviously there is still plenty to be done. EHRs have the potential to allow for electronic communication with patients, tracking of disease states, the ability to follow test results to be sure that items don’t get missed, and data collection and analysis of patient outcomes. All of this was impossible to do by hand.
There has been some progress over the last two years on being able to share that information across institutions through Health Information Exchanges. Smart folks have worked out the privacy-sharing agreements, encryption and how to match patients across different databases.
This technology and collection of data has the potential to improve the care patients receive, and improve the health care system overall, since doctors won’t be working in a silo. Doctors have a more complete look (and more legible, too) at a patient’s health history and prescriptions across facilities and health sectors. All of this integration means a more successful plan of treatment for patients.
Still to come is the meaningful integration of this new information into decision making at the time that the patient needs it. These kinds of systems-level learning take incredible time and patience. In all of this remain the people — the real patient and the real provider and that relationship — that is the basis of all of medicine. That needs to be preserved at all costs.
As the pendulum swings, organizations are working to be sure that the electronics don’t overwhelm what has stood the test of time: thoughtful listening, good science and partnerships between providers and patients. The good news is the tools will evolve to help make that part even better.
This blog post is part of A Healthy 10.