The last time you visited a doctor, did they pull your file from a manila folder? Increasingly, probably not. These days, with the rise of electronic patient records, your data is more likely to be pulled up on some sort of device, as opposed to being tucked away in a gray metal cabinet. Probably next to the table of golf magazines and one of those water dispensers with the thin paper cups.
No doubt there are benefits to the proliferation of technology throughout the health care industry, but there are plenty of risks and concerns as well. Let’s have a look at the impact the rise of electronic patient records might have on all of us.
With your personal information filed away in the digital world, your medical history is easily accessible no matter what doctor or health facility you visit. This is the idea the government had with the approval of the 2009 HITECH Act, which earmarked nearly $30 billion in spending to computerize Americans’ medical records—from the cradle to the grave.
This increased information sharing is meant to give medical professionals more insight, context, and data regarding your evaluation and treatment. This is a good thing.
Fans of electronic patient records also tout the fact that they make it easier for patients and doctors alike to “access health information, check test results, manage drug prescriptions, track preventive care, tailor patient education, and schedule appointments.”
The other big boon promised by moving away from pen, paper, and folders is the cutting of costs. The idea being electronic patient records will reduce paperwork, help prevent redundant (and expensive) tests, and cut down on errors caused by misunderstood or incorrect written instructions.
The hope is that electronic patient records will streamline the U.S. health care system, empower medical professionals and patients, and lead to a healthier country overall.
There’s always a catch, isn’t there? In the case of electronic medical records, we’re talking about huge concerns regarding privacy, hacking, and identity theft.
As we saw recently in the cyber attack on MedStar Health, having sensitive medical information online is not without risk. Hackers are ready and willing to steal patient information, which they can use to commit ID fraud and wreak all sorts of havoc. The hackers who attacked MedStar managed to encrypt patient information, which, to say the least, disrupted treatment for scores of patients.
Electronic patient records have also raised the ire of some folks who play a key role in our care: doctors. Whether it’s the time it takes to learn how to use a new device, decreased face time with patients, frustration with data entry, or just plain information overload, much has been written about doctors’ distaste for the new way of doing things. That can’t be good for us.
The Future of Electronic Patient Records?
While many will hearken for the good ol’ days of handwriting and filing cabinets, it seems inevitable that electronic health records are in our future. As our world and our lives increasingly move online, our medical information will likely go with it. Which, of course, has many pros and cons to consider.
Let’s hope that hospitals and health care providers can shore up their systems to safeguard against cyber threats, so we can enjoy the benefits of electronic patient records without any of the nasty side-effects in years to come.