Electronic Health Records: How the Conversion of Print Medical Records Could Transform the Healthcare Industry

By Ardito, Stephanie C. | Online Searcher, November-December 2014 | Go to article overview

Electronic Health Records: How the Conversion of Print Medical Records Could Transform the Healthcare Industry


Ardito, Stephanie C., Online Searcher


During the past year, I've noticed my doctor migrating her patients' print medical records to digital formats. At my last checkup, my doctor asked me to review my medical history directly on her iPad and to point out any mistakes I saw. In addition, she handed me a print copy of my latest blood work results, and together, we reviewed my cholesterol numbers and risks for diabetes and vitamin D deficiency. (I was impressed that the laboratory report included two recent references to vitamin D guidelines from the Institute of Medicine and The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.)

At the end of my appointment, as my physician electronically transmitted the renewal of my prescriptions directly to my pharmacy, she asked if I wanted internet access to my records. When I said yes, she had me fill out a form and told me I would be receiving an email from Quest Diagnostics (questdiagnostics.com/home.html). The email would include a temporary PIN number with instructions about how to set up an account through the company's Patient Portal. Once the account was established, I could retrieve my personal medical records, communicate directly with my doctor, and share the records with other physicians. When I arrived home, the email was already in my inbox.

I believe most of us remember the days when our family medical histories and vital statistics (blood pressure, cholesterol, body temperature, vaccinations, and other factors regarding our health) were recorded on paper and stored in color-coded manila folders. If our records needed to be shared, photocopies would be made and faxed or mailed to specialists, surgeons, or other health providers. If we required drugs, our doctors got out their prescription pads and handed us printed authorizations (often illegible!), which we brought to our pharmacies.

Nowadays, I suspect many of us have observed our physicians bringing laptops or tablets into examination rooms, using these portable devices to review our medical histories, to read our latest laboratory test results sent electronically and directly from clinical testing facilities, to transmit prescriptions directly to the pharmacies of our choice, and even to share medical records with us to ensure accuracy and make sure we're on the same page. Paper seems to be going by the wayside!

So, what happens with these electronic records regarding our health? I think we're naive to believe that our records stay within our doctors' offices. At the very least, some amount of our health information has to be relayed to insurance companies in order for our physicians to be reimbursed. But beyond managed care, do our records find their way to outside organizations such as national disease centers and other surveillance groups, research centers, medical associations and societies, pharmaceutical firms, and/or marketing organizations? Is our anonymity protected with only raw data shared? Do we have a choice or control about how our medical records are distributed? Whether or not we choose to protect our privacy, what safeguards are in place to ensure that our wishes regarding our health records are respected?

I hope to answer all these questions here. Since terminology regarding electronic medical records can be confusing, I will start by defining some commonly used terms and follow up with a review of historical legislative developments and current initiatives prompting physicians to move to electronic health records management. Next, I'll provide an overview of the pros and cons of electronic health records and what we can expect will be done with our records (including how we can protect our privacy). Finally, I'll finish up by discussing trends we can expect to see within the next few years.

DEFINING THE TERMS

In 2004, the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health Information Technology was created within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). …

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