Digital medical records, officially known as Electronic Medical Records (EMR's) are going to be a fact of life by 2014. But will they make a difference?
I think they will and the benefits outweigh the risks of abuse. We were able to speak with a representative from Invisible Bracelet (iB) on the podcast a few weeks ago. See Mitigation Journal Podcast edition #180. While iB is not an EMR, it is a way to get your vital information in a "snapshot" view, to those who need to make crucial decisions on your behalf. EMR's, on the other hand are complex living documents that replace (eventually) your entire paper medical record. EMR's will make complete medical information available to those who need it, when and where they need it. Going into an emergency department today (even in your hometown) you'll be seen by a doctor or mid-level provider who has no idea about your medical background and history. The providers will be, and are, forced to make decisions based on what your or a family member can tell them...then make an interpretation. They also have to order tests that may otherwise be unnecessary if they had access to prior test results via EMR. These two points alone; better information by the ED provider (and presumably accurate diagnosis and treatment...faster) along with decreased ordering of tests (cost savings) get me to buy-in on the use of EMR's. Click here for a related story from MSNBC.com
Lets add to that the use of EMR in the setting of disaster and emergency management. Displaced or evacuated persons during a disaster or crisis situation will need health care of one sort or another. Being moved out of your State or even to the other side of the Nation without your health information would slow the process. But with EMR's medical care providers will be able to "get to know you" and treat you faster...even after evacuation. Also, the everyday use of EMR can save money and time. I have heard many people say they won't visit a new walk-in care center because "my doctor isn't there"...leading to continued use of hospital emergency departments for minor, non-life threats. EMRs would provide that medical history to the walk-in care/urgent care provider as well as adding a level of comfort to the patient. All of these points lead to decreased use of ED's and decreased cost.
Not all of the news surrounding EMR's is good. There is a downside. First, the need for Internet, electricity and infrastructure leave a few weak spots in the plan. As we've talked about in this blog, the possibility of power grid failure and prolonged power outage ranks high on our list of man-made/technological hazards. Without power...no EMR. There are also privacy issues that we all must overcome.