Have you seen the commercial that's currently running on television showing a patient and his doctor with a background auditorium filled with health care professionals adding their historical information about the patients past medical history? If you listen to the news, or read the paper, or perhaps you have recently been to a doctor's office or hospital, chances are you have heard the terms "EHR" and "EMR". The government is really pushing for electronic networking of our medical information so as to be accessible to all of our doctors, the implication being better medical care.
The 'EHR' - or Electronic Hospital Record - is the hospital medical record data base system. The 'EMR' - or Electronic Medical Record - is the doctor's own medical charting system. If you have had a test done at a hospital (i.e. a CT Scan, or blood work), stayed overnight, visited the ER, had surgery, etc, then you have an EHR if the hospital has incorporated the technology. If you have visited your doctor and he has the technology, you have an EMR.
The doctor and his staff have access to the hospital's EHR. Individual doctor offices, however, are not linked to each others EMR's. For example, if you visited a urologist last year, and are now seeing a gastroenterologist, both of whom have EMR's, they are not linked into each other's data bases - unless they are all under one corporate entity. For example, if they are employed by a hospital system, practicing in an academic center, or under some other all encompassing umbrella organization, they will all be able to see each other's medical chart on any patient.
It is very expensive. A typical community hospital will invest millions of dollars to get an electronic hospital record implemented. A doctor's office can expect to spend between $20,000 and $100,000, and sometimes more - depending on the number of doctors in the group, and the specialty.
Here's the catch. What used to be private between physician and patient is not anymore. When utilizing electronic medical records, the information is easily available and accessible. My staff can pull up any information on a patient seen at the hospital. We can see test results, lab results, the type of doctors and specialists visited. It is now available to anyone who works at a medical office or hospital. Yes, there are passwords and the like. But the bottom line is the information is not secure or private.
Will it really result in better care? Less expensive care? Listening to the commercial you would deduce that if the physician knew that a CT Scan of the sinuses was done a year ago he would not need to order another one if the patient was being evaluated for sinus disease. But actually any test more than three months old is out dated. The physician will need to order a more current radiological test to accurately diagnosis and make treatment recommendations.