We need a better way to share information to care for patients

This evening I went to a meeting of many of the independent physicians in our community who came together to discuss ways we can help each other to remain viable as relatively small independent practices of medicine.  Two things about the meeting really hit home for me.

First is how seldom I get to meet socially with my fellow physicians in the community.  Now that many of us use hospitalists to take care of our patients when they need to be hospitalized, we seldom see each other face to face.

I was surprised how nice it felt to sit and break bread, well maybe have a beer too, with friends and colleagues I hadn’t seen in years.  I never was one of the docs who came to the hospital a little early each morning to share a cup of coffee with the other physicians, but I do miss discussing patients and sharing about family, friends, and the community news in person.  Phone discussions tend to be all business for me, and it’s just not the same.

Second is how frustrated everyone is at how difficult is has been to share medical information even though most of us use electronic health records.  Everyone desperately wants to have a HIPAA compliant, convenient, and practical way to share patient information so we can take better care of our patients.  This sounds easy.  Fax machines were a huge break thorough 25 years ago, but just don’t work well enough now.  The problem is that secure and confidential exchange of information between proprietary EHR systems that were not originally designed to communicate is neither simple nor inexpensive.

In addition, information is power.  Some large medical systems have financial incentive to make it easier for their own providers to have easier access to patient information.  This makes a big incentive to keep patients wholly within their system and capture the work and billing for the work of providing the care to those patients.  As independent physicians we just want to have access to the data we need to provide good care.

I was told tonight that putting up roadblocks to easy access to information is going to be illegal soon, essentially forcing all medical systems to make access to patient data to appropriate health care personnel easier.  I hope so, because this is one of the huge hassles of practice, and a significant factor in the overall cost of medical care in the US is duplicate testing and the work needed to gather patient data.

Let’s all keep pressure on everyone, physicians, hospitals, and government to do whatever it takes to facilitate ease of access to appropriate medical data.  Our health, and our economic success as a nation depend on it.

Edward Pullen is a family physician who blogs at DrPullen.com.

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