A lot of conversations are going on around the United States about health care reform. The Dallas Morning News recently ran an article entitled, “Who really profits from digital medical records?” reporters Dave Michaels and Jason Roberson wrote that computerization of medical records was a significant part of the federal stimulus package, with $45 billion reserved for hospitals and physicians to make the conversion. The reporters added that medical errors cost the United States $37.6 billion annually.
Standards and timelines play a key part in this portion of the health reform. “Only 1.5 percent of U.S. hospitals have the comprehensive records envisioned by the Obama administration, according to the New England Journal of Medicine,” Michaels and Roberson wrote. Some medical institutions and physicians are worried about the proposed timeline to change to an online medical records system, believing that this process should go slower.
However, I think a rapid, well-thought-out transition to an online version is exceptionally important and health care professionals should do everything in their power to make this integrated system happen. And especially with the growing number of people who have Alzheimer’s, the need for a timely transition is now! Here are some situations that Mom and/or I experienced to explain my thinking:
- Prior to my mother’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s but while she was developing mild cognitive impairment, Mom saw doctors in four different cities (including her primary care physician, several neurologists, and two pulmonologists). Family members shared her medical history with each doctor, but as my mother became more paranoid, she wouldn’t allow family members to join her during these visits. Therefore, an information void opened where the doctors weren’t getting the best information, our family was out of the loop, and Mom’s physical and mental health suffered. An integrated online system would have ensured that everyone was on the same page and that Mom’s changing medical needs were met.
- Mom also made numerous trips to the emergency room (often during a time span covering just a few days) due to her Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. I believe that some of these costly trips to the emergency room could have been eliminated if a computerized system had “flagged” her case and her primary care physician and pulmonologist were made aware of her medical distress. Instead, she was often released from the emergency room to return home, but then was back in the emergency room the next day. And in cases in which I was with her at the emergency room in another city (prior to my being her caregiver), I found I couldn’t provide the medical background (such as the medications she was taking) that would have helped the doctors better treat Mom. Again, an online medical database would have helped doctors know what they were up against in my mom’s case.
- When Mom entered the nursing home, I found that the nursing home and Mom’s primary care physician were in regular communication, but I was left out of the loop. Yet I was the person who would accompany Mom to the emergency room. The doctors would ask about Mom’s situation, but I wasn’t able to tell them what Mom’s symptoms were since I hadn’t seen them and at times, hadn’t even talked to the nursing home staff prior to Mom’s admittance to the ER. And Mom couldn’t share the information since she didn’t remember it (and, in some instances, was in a groggy or unconscious state). Again, having a computerized records system that could be accessed by the hospital, the primary care physician, other key medical doctors, and the nursing home’s medical staff would have been invaluable in ensure that Mom had coordinated and cost-effective medical attention.
When I was a caregiver for my mother, I would have been so thankful for a computerized health care database; furthermore, it would have contributed to better – and more cost effective -- care for Mom. I’m pleased that President Obama and federal legislatures understand this important need. My hope is that medical personnel can embrace the creation of this system in a timely manner and remove all roadblocks in order to make an online medical records system a reality.
Published On: July 27, 2009