I have been thinking in my personal life about electronic medical records (EMR.) A number of friends are doctors who service multiple hospitals, and they sometimes encounter different systems at each hospital (if the hospitals even have electronic medical records.)
As a privacy advocate, it might be weird for me to be advocating electronic medical records because of the potential hazards, but as a patient, it is much, much easier to have continuity of care with EMR. I don’t have to drag a paper printout of my test results with me to each new doctor. When I was insured via Kaiser, it literally took minutes from the time I walked from my doctor down to the pharmacy below for my prescription to be filled. The doctor had ordered the Rx while I was with her, and sent it electronically. It was truly a beautiful streamlined feat that I still wonder at. Like pressing the Staples “Easy” button.
Not being a medical professional, I don’t have to worry if I’m repeating back the precise medical jargon that was fed to me before. For patients who have limited English proficiency (LEP), it is easier than having family members serve as sometimes imperfect translators each and every visit. This doesn’t negate the need for each doctor or specialist to ask questions, but it can be helpful for establishing and cross-checking prior medical history. And it’s important for EMRs to be tailored to specific communities – recommendations for best practices are outlined by HHS and Partnership for Women and Families.
Obviously, having a nationwide EMR system exposes a ridiculous amount of HIPAA data to hackers, and there would have to be the most stringent measures taken to protect patient safety. However, there are already certain nationwide EMR systems such as the one used by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, which was one of the early adopters of EMR. Despite some of the ways in which the VA is currently broken, the agency deserves kudos on this count. Doctors actually point to the VA EMR system as a model of efficiency even compared to systems at top university hospitals. (That the VA system and the Department of Defense systems don’t talk to each other is a whole other story.)
The same way that I can get a prescription filled in different cities because my information and insurance is in the system, it would be great if not only veterans, but all Americans, could see healthcare practitioners who understand their medical histories without having to wait for the home institution or doctor’s office to fax over information.
I could even see a system that has translations of diseases, causes, symptoms, and treatments that a patient could look over. This isn’t perfect because not all patients are necessarily literate in their native languages, but it could help to overcome some of the barriers. Obviously we still want more culturally and linguistically competent providers and translators at hospitals, but this is a way of bridging the divide. We can make tech work to increase voter participation and allow people to cast ballots in their native languages, why not to improve health outcomes?