Electronic Medical Records: Digitizing Medicine

HealthcareFebruary 13, 2014

By developing incentives for electronic medical records through the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, Congress has urged a massive changeover within the medical industry. While medicine needs to evolve from its archaic ways of business management, this piece of legislation may have produced some unwanted results by forcing practices to move too quickly. Can you imagine some of the problems you might experience if you were forced to make a quick change from an iPhone to an Android phone? Multiply this inconvenience by 20 and add in the fact that you are dealing with people's lives, not just dropped calls. This might give you a better understanding of the issues doctors are encountering. Not only do doctors have to abandon their old systems, but they are forced to learn a new system, without much room for error.

Current problems in the market of electronic medical records, or EMR, are normally indicative of a system that has not fully matured. An article from The Washington Post analyzes some of the problems with current EMR systems. The author notes that doctors have dozens of options to choose from when they simply want to diagnose a patient as "depressed", but none of which allow them to simply label the patient as "depressed". This could create confusion for those who work with the patient in the future if the forced diagnosis is too specific for practical use. To help alleviate this problem, doctors will often keep handwritten notes during their interaction with a patient, and later type the information into the computer, which is a waste of valuable time.

Another problem is that few EMR systems are capable of interacting with each other. There are few financial incentives to make EMR interoperable, and there seems to be no easy system for sharing. Standards are slowly being developed, but they are not being developed quickly enough, and they are being applied only to subsets of medical record sharing.

Given all of these problems, we are still seeing vast improvements in the EMR field. While EMRs are inconvenient today, most people expect them to make life easier in the future. It's easy to see how medicine might become more efficient in the future if we take a cursory look at breakthroughs in EMR research. The SMART platform is one example of leading research that takes advantage of interoperability, creating a system in which developers can freely use available code (in the form of Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs) to make applications for EMR. This system is designed to democratize EMR, pulling away from the current model of siloed, proprietary systems that don't interact with each other.

We are not far away from an easier procedure for dealing with electronic medical records and medical procedures as a whole. While progress has been slow, the right technologies are in place for reasonable systems to take hold and spread throughout the market.

Click here for part 2, where we discuss how these advancements in electronic medical records (EMRs) apply to you as a medical professional! 

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