I want to find out how a patient of mine at the hospital is doing. After seeing her quickly in her room, I want to check out her most recent lab results, have a look at her recent CT exam, and see what the various doctors on her case are writing. I go to find her chart, but it’s nowhere to be found. I search for almost 30 minutes, and eventually find it hidden under a pile of papers at the nursing station. I open up the chart to read her recent consult. But all I see is scribble. The doctor’s handwriting is illegible. I’d like to read her lab results, but the lab hasn’t brought them up yet. I go down to radiology to view the CT, but everyone is on their lunch break. Does this story sound familiar to you?
The frustrations I just described are merely the tip of the iceberg. I could go on for many pages listing the problems I’ve had with obtaining patient information. I’ve worked in quite a few different hospitals beginning around the year 2000, and I can attest that the handling of patient information, and the management of the workflow of the hospital can be as important a component of quality patient care as are the doctors and nurses.
The hospitals I’ve experienced have spanned the whole spectrum of so-called electronic medical records (EMR) implementation. Some have barely even had a single computer, while others have had completely integrated systems for accessing and storing patient information. And I can attest that I have been able to save immeasurable amounts of time and stress because of the ability to easily access the information I needed.
EMR systems have been in the news recently, as Obama included a portion of his economic stimulus plan to include the implementation of EMR systems in hospitals and private practices. Some people are very excited about moving towards a higher-tech way of handling medical information, while others are immensely concerned about the possible negative consequences.
To provide full disclosure, I must admit that my opinion is probably a bit biased by my previous experience. I’ve worked in the IT industry, and have more than a working knowledge of computers. Also, based on my age, I am a part of the “Facebook” generation.
It’s interesting to watch the interaction between us “younger” med students, and some of the older residents and attendings. When the attending can’t seem to figure out how to pull up something on the computer, one of us students always help out. If I need to find some information on a drug or dosage, I whip out my iPhone, while the older resident or attending might pull out a book. I’m not saying that one or the other is necessarily better, but I know that I generally feel much more comfortable using technology.
There are many issues that people have brought up regarding the implementation of EMR systems. The biggest criticism is that it makes protecting privacy incredibly difficult. How can we ensure that doctors and other healthcare providers don’t go digging around unnecessarily in everyone’s records?
Although there are many potential drawbacks to implementing EMR, I will come right out and say that I am a huge proponent of them. I have seen first-hand how patient care can be improved, and a doctor’s workload lessoned by utilizing EMR, and other types of electronic systems. But perhaps this is because of the fact that I am a part of the “computer generation.” I wonder what older people in the healthcare industry think. And I wonder if there are any younger folks out there who just don’t think that we’re going in the right direction. I encourage you all to share your thoughts!