In my August 1, 2008 post, I spoke about the benefits of a national health registry, and questioned why it had not been implemented in the United States. I also touched on an additional concern: how the passing of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) had resulted in making it more difficult to obtain patient's medical records.
Because so many medical errors happen because of a lack of information about a patient's medical history, it is crucial for a physician to have immediate and unfettered access to a patient's prior records of care. The physician ought to know: the medications the patient is taking; the medications he/she is allergic to; the patient's chronic conditions, if any (high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes). And that's just for starters.
Our healthcare system, however, has not moved quickly enough to take advantage of the technology that would enable such access, which would, in turn, save lives and prevent unnecessary illness. England, however, is another story.
British physicians Matthew J. Armstrong and Caroline Booth wrote, in the October 23, 2008 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine , that “electronic health records have been widely adopted by primary care and hospital trusts of the National Health Service in the United Kingdom. York Hospital is now using electronic resources to improve communication among health care providers by implementing a prompt (<24 hours), accurate, electronic summary of each patient's hospital discharge.”
The British primary care physicians are now able to have immediate records informing them of their patient's diagnosis, status of their medications, and recommendations for follow-up treatment. They appreciate the fact that they can read the computerized records (as opposed to the old and problematic handwritten format), and they appreciate how it improves communication between hospital physicians and primary care physicians.
We could, and should, incorporate such communication into our healthcare system. The cost in upgraded technology is surely less than the cost to our patient population if we continue to sit on our hands.