From a clinician standpoint, health information integrated with computer technology has revolutionized the medical field. The constant diagnostic tests, procedures, and other pertinent patient information reduce the errors and delays for providers. The constant evolvement and updating of newer programs is supposed to make data accessibility easier. Data accessibility also helps decrease the redundancy of duplicating tests and orders which help control cost effectiveness for insurance companies and government spending. When looking at the basic management of health information, one advantage for EMR’s are electronic coding. Coding different diagnosis’ helps track a patient’s medical history. From a government or insurance standpoint, this tracking system provides input to see if a patient with a disease is being treated accordingly or properly managing their care. It also determines if the illness is a chronic condition. By doing so, medical informatics is so important that it can dictate major reimbursements for a facility or a provider. When looking at the disadvantages of an EMR, there are security issues and errors within a computer system itself. If those errors are not properly contained or are not caught in time, patient safety and lives could be in jeopardy.
It is three o’clock in the morning. A seventy-year old male who is on vacation visiting his relatives in New York suddenly develops numbness and tingling on one side of his body while going to the bathroom. He also becomes speechless and is unable to call for help. His shuffling and commotion in the night luckily wake up his family members in the other rooms. They rush to his aid and call 911. Upon arrival to the ER, the doctors ask the son about his condition and history. The son states that his father is here on vacation and all his doctors and medical information is back home in Florida. The son brings in his dad’s pill container that is divided into a seven-day compartment with multiple pills in each compartment. He gives them to the nurse as his father’s home medications. Having an EMR is crucial to healthcare. Not only does it let different providers see into a patient’s health records, but it also dictates their care and treatment accordingly.
Only a small percent of facilities and other health systems have fully integrated into an all EMR format. Meanwhile, only 4% to 8% percent of physicians have implemented EHRs in their offices, where most people’s medical records begin (Goldstein, et al., 2007). When looking at this seventy-year old patient, his life is on the line if his treatment does not go accordingly. His medical records are like lifelines that help piece together answers doctors need for his care. A traditional format to getting patient records in a hospital is a patient has to sign a medical release form. That form is faxed over to the facility that contains his/her information. Once they retrieve that information then it is faxed back to the requesting facility. In ideal circumstances, there is no rush to retrieve the information. In times where a patient’s life is on the line or their care plan is on balance, that information is vital to receive within hours of its request. A fully integrated EMR system would cut the delay. It would save the patient time spent going through unnecessary diagnostic tests.
When looking at the disadvantages of integrating a full EMR system for the whole country, the first issue that comes to mind is HIPAA. HIPAA laws maintain a patient’s confidentiality while in and out of a facility. Medical records are designed to be kept private and the basis for the law to prevent solicitation from unwanted vendors or providers. All facilities that use an EMR system contain a network security that is constantly updated to prevent hacking and breaching patient information. It is often easier for an individual to dress in hospital scrubs and put on a stethoscope to go through the paper charts and steal vital patient data such as social security or driver’s license numbers. There have been cases where paper medical records, especially parts of them, have disappeared. There was a case where boxes of patient records from a doctor’s office were found in a garbage dumpster (Preventing Medical Identity Theft, 2008) and a case in which stolen medical records were recently found washed up on a Maine shore (Associated Press, 2008b).
There is no single definitive way to protect data but an EMR helps manage that system easier than paper records. Other safety concerns that an EMR may have involve incorrect information transference. One example is if a patient is allergic to penicillin. There have been situations where the clinician and pharmacy did not catch the allergy and the patient received the antibiotic causing an allergic reaction. It is hard to determine if the blame falls on the EMR system or the clinicians taking care of the patient.
There is no sure way to protect patient information. It is always due diligence of the providers and physicians to be advocates for the patient in terms of respecting the confidentiality of their information. While EMR system integration is a work in progress in facilities all over the country, there are still millions of paper documents transferring to medical records as archives. Upon needing those documents, it is hard to determine the importance of the information when it truly matters. An EMR system will help prevent delays and continue to give providers insight into each and every individual patient they encounter. Having that information is like opening an electronic book to their medical past. Along with billions of dollars in healthcare cost savings, EMRs is the future of health and quality care.
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