By 2014, each and every American will have an electronic medical record of their own. Electronic medical records (EMR) are “paperless paperwork,” or computerized copies of patient records, and the federal government hopes to make wide use of them to cut down health costs. The Obama administration’s health information technology program plans on offering incentives and subsidies to medical providers who make use of electronic records. By 2014, all doctors will be required to have Health IT or will face a penalty.
Doctors are notorious for their messy, often illegible handwriting that can often produce doctor errors. One optometrist, Meera Sutaria, reported that investing in such technology increased her office’s efficiency. Because there were fewer issues with paperwork, Sutaria was able to spend more quality time with patients. Computerized records save paper, and make it easier for other doctors to read and access patient information, especially in the emergency room, where doctors often have limited access to patient information. One Wisconsin doctor, Dr. Ashok Rai, has waited for hours just to receive faxes for his out-of-network E.R. patients, which could easily have been avoided had other doctors outside his hospital made use of electronic records.
Proponents of EMRs point to the reduction of paperwork and increased readability as a great way to streamline and manage healthcare. In a world where health care costs are exploding, saving money is incredibly important. Kaiser Permanente, a company that revolutionized medical records, found that computerized records helped track vaccine safety in a study of young children. In this society, where patients can be seeing multiple doctors and specialists, it is necessary to have a way to quickly share information with other providers. Electronic medical records can improve quality of care for patients, ensuring that they do not undergo duplicate or unnecessary procedures. Plus, electronic medical records might be able to streamline the insurance claims process, paying doctors instantly in real time.
Not all doctors or hospitals make use of computerized records today. In fact, electronic medical records are in the minority rather than the majority. Providers who do use such medical technology may use it in different ways or to different extents. However, I feel that an expanded, unified system will truly be able to streamline care if (and only if) it is executed properly.
Opponents of Health IT argue that the shift from paper to computer may actually result in higher costs. Providers may charge patients to afford new health information technology. Other providers, including Kaiser Permanente—a Health IT leader—fear that they won’t qualify for subsidies under the government’s new meaningful care standard, which may be too strict to start off with. However, so long as the government places guidelines that ensure high quality of care for patients, poor quality can be avoided. Servers and databases must be guaranteed secure in order to prevent hacking and identity theft.
Ultimately, I feel that widespread adoption of electronic medical records will only be helpful for the health care industry. First of all, the government must ensure the safety of patients’ personal information. And providers need to step up their efforts in modernizing now so that they can benefit from the subsidies.