As a field grounded heavily in technology, medicine is no stranger to adopting new ideas. The revolution of technology in health care has been going on for decades. With each passing year, we are seeing more and more ways that information technology is improving medicine for patients and practitioners alike.
That acceleration continues today. New technologies like tablets and cloud storage are broadening the scope of what can be done electronically, and the wall full of patient files is rapidly becoming obsolete. These developments are coming in several areas.
Transfer of Care
From America’s more rural communities, many patients are transferred to specialists in larger cities. That movement can cover hundreds of miles sometimes, a distance that must be traversed by not just the patient but also by his or her medical records. The process of completing an EHR software comparison is heavily influenced by the expected need for portability of records as well as the ability of patients themselves to access the records. General practitioners, serving as the first line of defense for the patient’s health, have an extensive need to share data with specialists at other locations.
As a result, they need a system that can efficiently handle those transactions. Later, specialists will be returning data to the primary care physician, so the experts need an effective means to quickly transfer patient information as well. With a few simple keystrokes and mouse clicks, the patient’s records efficiently follow him or her from one provider to another, speeding and improving their care.
While paper has always been considered an infallible method of storage, advancements in technology such as cloud storage and massive local servers have provided a combination of size and reliability that makes it no longer necessary to put everything down in black and white.
The result is that doctors can store the ever-growing amount of patient information in a system that requires very little paper, very little (climate-controlled) space, and only modest quantities of electricity. The movement of these records between doctors, insurance companies, hospitals, and other stakeholders is now done with very little photocopying, mail, or faxing. The reduction of paper consumption and energy has been dramatic.
Record Preservation & Handling
History is filled with examples of important documents that have been lost in floods or fires in courthouses and municipal buildings. Medical practices have not been immune to such disruptions. Anytime rising waters, trembling ground, or charging flames threaten a physician’s office or a hospital, the records are often left in harm’s way in order to save lives and expensive equipment.
Of course, these priorities are in the correct order, but the disruption in patient care that results from the loss of a lifetime of medical data can be very dangerous. Re-establishing a history of events and treatments from outside sources is nearly impossible to do accurately. How did the patient respond to a dosage change six years ago? Should it be done again? Physicians say that diagnosis is 85% history; when that history is largely destroyed, the diagnosis becomes much more difficult.
Of course, servers and electronic storage are no less vulnerable to flames and water than paper records. But the difference is in duplication and backup; by the time these records are remotely secured in multiple different locations, it would take an incredible series of coincidences to destroy them all.
Medical records are as important to a patient’s care as their vital signs and symptoms. Being able to manage years and years of information efficiently, effectively, and in a green way to boot is an amazing development in health care.