RIP, Paper Medical Records

It is 2 a.m.  You aren’t feeling well.  You place a call to your family primary care provider (PCP).  Your PCP isn’t on call, but their partner calls you back and decides to call in a medication for you to the local pharmacy.  You are happy with this, and go to your pharmacy to pick up the medicine.  You take the first dose, in anticipation of relief from your problem.  Within an hour, you are in your bathroom, vomiting, so dizzy you can’t stand up, and are becoming short of breath.  You call 911 and are rushed to the emergency department, only to find out that the medication you have just taken has a significant interaction with one you are already taking.  You are in the hospital for a couple of days because the interaction can have negative effects on your kidneys.  You end up suffering no long-term negative effects from the drug interaction, but it was very frightening, indeed.

This whole scenario could have been prevented if health information technology (Health IT) were as advanced as some of our other health technologies.  Your PCP or their partner could have called up your health records, reviewed your current medications, past history, and most recent laboratory results.  They could have made a better decision about your situation than they did in just talking with you.  You wouldn’t have nearly died from the drug interaction and the costs to you and your insurer would have been much less.

We’ve known for some time that Health IT can be very effective at improving our healthcare quality, for several reasons.  Our own U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has noted that broad use of health IT will:

  • Improve health care quality.
  • Prevent medical errors.
  • Reduce health care costs.
  • Increase administrative efficiencies.
  • Decrease paperwork.
  • Expand access to affordable care.

Interoperable health IT will improve individual patient care, but it will also bring many public health benefits including:

  • Early detection of infectious disease outbreaks around the country.
  • Improved tracking of chronic disease management.
  • Evaluation of health care based on value enabled by the collection of de-identified price and quality information that can be compared.

The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research (AHRQ) has provided significant funding over the last several years toward examining and implementing Health IT projects with a focus on improving healthcare quality.  An example is a project from Johns Hopkins University where researchers are evaluating how well Health IT, which integrates multiple sources of health information, helps to improve care for vulnerable populations, usually those who are poor or who no health insurance coverage.

The funding provided AHRQ has been helfpul, but with the promise that greater adoption of Health IT brings, we should be spending much more in this area.  This is especially true when problems with current technologies still exist.

President-elect Obama has promoted, as a part of his economic stimulus and healthcare reform plans, to invest in Health IT and electronic medical records in order to reduce healthcare costs and stimulate the economy.  I am looking forward to the day when the floor to ceiling racks of medical records that all healthcare providers currently keep are a thing of the past.  I am looking forward to a day when my electronic health information is safely and securely available to any healthcare provider that needs it in order to provide the best care to me.  It shouldn’t matter whether I am in Ohio or Florida, whether I have Insurance A or Insurance B.

Just as the Internet has opened worlds of information to people who previously had no access to it, Health IT adoption will open worlds of health information to the people who need it most: You and your healthcare providers.

To read more about Health IT, visit the sites linked to above, or see the September/October 2005 issue of Health Affairs: The Policy Journal of the Health Sphere.

Dr. Darrell Spurlock teaches nursing and psychology in Columbus, Ohio.


Image © 2007 benben - Flickr


William C
William C4 months ago

Thanks for the information.

W. C
W. C4 months ago

Thank you.

Zana P.
Zana P9 years ago

"I am looking forward to a day when my electronic health information is safely and securely available to any healthcare provider that needs it in order to provide the best care to me."

I agree, keeping health records private and safe is a big concern. I can see the advantages for electronic records, but I worry about hackers or a computer crashing. How many people would see the personal information as records are transferred between computer systems? I know things can go wrong with paper records as I have worked as a medical collator, but I still feel wary about too much personal information being available via computers. Maybe I'm a luddite! hehe

Darrell Spurlock PhD RN
.9 years ago

Eric, you are right that in some cases non-pharmaceuticals are helpful. But in others, there are no equivalent natural options. Plus, there are even interactions between various herbs and supplements, too.

Pamela White
Pamela WILLIS9 years ago

please help

Eric S.
Eric Straatsma9 years ago

What works even better is herbs, vitamins and natural non harmful, no negative side effects modalities such as homeopathy, and food based therapies...

No risk, no stress and no need for IT stuff... all at low cost or free. Plus this is green and sustainable, where drugs, radiation and surgery are not..