The real scoop on EMRs

Here is the truth about the so-called “holy grail of medicine”:

Admittedly, other industries have seen large cost savings from computerization, but health care is different. First, the health-care system is hardly a system. It is hundreds of thousands of doctors and thousands of hospitals all practicing medicine their own unique way — and the EMR will not change that. Ideally, the EMR should allow a doctor standing in the emergency room or the hospital to look up the records from the patient’s doctor’s office. To see, for example, what the patient’s EKG looked like a year ago, or to determine the patient’s current medicines.

However, each hospital system and doctor’s office today has a unique EMR that stands completely on its own and won’t talk to another’s computers. Each has purchased a system, at huge expense, from a vendor who is in competition with other vendors and unwilling to work from a common language. There is no push for cooperation.

In medicine, our fundamental activity is not stocking warehouse shelves or ordering merchandise from vendors. Medicine involves one human listening to, talking with and examining another. It seems entirely reasonable to expect that computers could improve quality by, say, prompting doctors to order certain tests, or reminding them to update the person’s immunizations. In fact, studies show that when doctors are provided with electronic reminders, 75 percent of the time the reminders are ignored . . .

. . . Adding EMRs to the current broken health-care system could increase costs, decrease quality and push the practice of medicine further away from human interaction. Before we spend more money on these electronic holy grails, let’s first look for data showing that in the real world they can achieve important goals other than simply improved billing.

(via GruntDoc)

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