Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.See all posts »
You, Your Doctor, and the Electronic Medical Record
How Information Technology is Changing Healthcare
I am a member of a group of 14 very busy cardiologists. In our office, we see patients in consultation, perform a variety of high tech imaging and stress testing studies, and offer several different in-office procedures. Five years ago, every one of our thousands of patients would have had a separate paper chart. Any time a lab test, stress test, hospital visit, or letter was generated the chart would have been tracked down by a filing clerk and the paper filed away. If all went well, the chart would then have been handed off to a nurse, who would review the report and decide if there was something the doctor needed to evaluate urgently. If so, the chart would be plunked on top of an ever growing “to do” pile teetering on the edge of the doctor’s desk. If not, the chart would be sent back to the medical records department. At the patient’s next office visit, the doctor would need to page through the chart to find any relevant materials. A note would be dictated, someone would type it up, and the chart would continue to wend its way through the building, eventually landing back in the medical records department. With a system dependent on so many things going exactly right, it’s easy to see how important data and documents could be misplaced or lost.
That all changed when we transitioned to the electronic medical record (EMR). Sometimes referred to as an EHR (electronic health record), the EMR has allowed us to provide care in a much more efficient and integrated fashion. Problem lists can be instantly updated by the physicians and nurses; test results are transmitted through the EMR and can be accessed (securely of course) on or off site; treatment plans and recommendations based on these results can be generated immediately; hospital records can be entered into the EMR without delay; and prescriptions can be generated electronically and sent directly to the patient’s pharmacy. In addition, records can be readily shared with hospitals and physicians in other practices, as long as we have the patient’s permission to do so.
Despite their efficiencies, EMRs are very expensive and at first can be very cumbersome to put into practice. There is a steep learning curve, and none of the systems available are perfect. While there is no official government mandate for physicians to adopt an EMR, the government has offered incentives to physicians who adopt an EMR. Eventually, those who do not make the switch will be paid less for seeing Medicare patients.
To learn more about EMRs and how they might affect the way your healthcare is delivered, visit HealthIT.gov, a website developed by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. The site includes heart patient Claire Blocker’s firsthand experience of the way that her EMR has positively impacted her health by allowing more effective coordination of care amongst her physicians, improving her access to information, and allowing her to more effectively and safely manage her medications.
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