I Want My EHR!

Feb. 1, 2007

Recently, I underwent several medical procedures, which were performed by different doctors at different locations. In each instance I filled out personal history forms, insurance verification forms and HIPAA release forms, all with the same, basic information. That was no small amount of writing, though the writing had to be very small to fit inside those tiny boxes. But, I digress.

Recently, I underwent several medical procedures, which were performed by different doctors at different locations. In each instance I filled out personal history forms, insurance verification forms and HIPAA release forms, all with the same, basic information. That was no small amount of writing, though the writing had to be very small to fit inside those tiny boxes. But, I digress.

The procedures were successful. However, at more than one location, the contact information contained in the front office systems did not agree with the information contained in the back office systems. Home addresses and telephone numbers differed, receipt of EOBs were delayed, confusion reigned. To make matters worse, one office’s records showed my physician as in-network, while my insurance company’s records showed the opposite. It was a nightmare.

HMT editors enjoy an enviable position. We study healthcare from an omnipotent perch. We position our spyglasses to spot trends as they evolve from minute ripples into full-blown waves. We write about healthcare organizations, large and small, that have boarded technology’s train and embarked on journeys to increase efficiency, lower error rates and improve their bottom lines. We also write about the government’s involvement in healthcare. This gives us a unique perspective.

We anticipate the day when patients will log onto the Web, consult with providers and set office visits. Upon arrival, the patients will simply swipe cards and key pass codes that permit access, for that appointment only, to private health and insurance information. Or, perhaps, patients will simply arrive and be treated without any check-in at all. A thumbprint will automatically alert the provider to the patient’s arrival and transmit the electronic data. Sounds ideal, doesn’t it?

The possibility isn’t that far fetched. Interoperability is coming, and just behind it, RHIOs (Regional Health Information Organizations) and the NHIN (National Health Information Network). Together, they will make it possible for you to drive from Washington to California, stopping at hospitals and clinics along the way, and have your medical records precede your arrival. Assuming there are electronic medical records.

Motivated by President Bush’s mandate that every American should have an electronic health record (EHR) by 2014, The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and The United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) work diligently to accomplish this task. Will it come to pass? That remains to be seen. The process is slow, but there is progress. However, designing the technology isn’t the only nut to crack. Convincing providers to embrace change, in many ways, is the steeper hill to climb. Especially given the fact that, under the current plan, providers incur the bill, without the benefit. It’s sort of like buying the dinner, but going home hungry. Still, I have high hopes.

The funny thing about the future is that it has a habit of becoming the present. Predicting it, however, is spotty at best. Those of you who watched Star Trek from your father’s knees know what I’m talking about. As a child, I read science magazines that predicted we’d all be commuting in flying cars by now. I’m a futurist by profession, and an optimist by nature. So, I believe in my flying car. And, every time I check in at my doctor’s office, I believe in my EHR too.

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