Friday, March 4, 2011

Has your doctor gone digital? Our government is encouraging all health care professionals to throw out their walls filled with paper files and convert patient records to tablet computers and digital records. Yes, we will all have our medical history in a computer file to be stored or to be sent anywhere. Great idea. My doctors office wall will look better than having all those ugly file folders from floor to ceiling and my records can go immediately to a hospital if necessary at the touch of a button. But, I always wondered what would happen if the power goes out. All the advances of the 20th century are computers or are on computers. We will not exist without power. Secretly I wonder if the ancient cavemen and Egyptians had it right by carving in stone. I want my medical records carved in stone. No, we have tablet computers.
Dr. David Blumenthal, the Obama administration’s national coordinator for health information said, “This is a big social project, not just a technical endeavor”. This year is when the project really takes off. In the 2009 economic recovery package, the administration and ongress allocated billions- the current estimate is $27 billion- in incentives for doctors and hospitals to adopt electronic records. Now, a new Congress with Republicans looking for budget cuts could take back the money. As usual this country can’t convert to anything as a whole. There are clean energy wars and now modernizing record taking has to be debated as well.
Still, steps to encourage adoption of computerized health records have had bipartisan support over the years, though only the Obama administration has pushed big financing. Most physicians are in small practices, lacking the financial and technical support the big groups provide for their doctors. So, it is scarcely surprising that less than 30 percent of physicians nationwide now use digital records. The long-range vision is that computerized patient data is a step toward what health care specialists call a “learning health system.” That means data across populations of patients can be analyzed to find what treatments are most effective or to get early warnings on dangerous drug interactions.
More is needed in data-sharing standards and privacy and security protections. This is big and can open new windows in speed and in detection of health problems. It is much bigger than just a program for storing data. It will be the early detection of life or death for many if their records are publicly revealed. Just think of the organ donor aspect. We will be able to monitor organ donors health problems and be on alert for their organs if their medical records seem to indicate that the time is for near death. Look at that medical chart on the computer and sharpen your knives. Ugh!

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