Fri, 24 May 2013 - 10:05 p.m. MT
Credit: ARA Staff - American Running Association
Electronic health records have received a lot of attention in the past five years or so. The federal government has been consistently pointing out the benefits of “going electronic”—greater access, less waste and red tape, more reliable and streamlined ways of communicating important info to your doctor—the benefits are evident enough. But while this inevitable transition away from paper files has been progressing nicely within the health care community, it isn’t always clear what patients should be doing to encourage the switch. Surely we have a vested interest in making our medical information as efficient, accessible, secure, and patient-oriented as possible; it turns out, we also have a part to play.
Physicians and hospitals are incentivized to move away from paper records. Patients, too, should be. Thinking about this issue with the focus on you, the patient, includes the idea that you should have much more direct access and ownership of your own health records. Most people don’t think to inquire about this in conversations with their doctors. Here are ten reasons why you should.
- Natural Disasters. We don’t much like to discuss them, but floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes have swept through the U.S. in seemingly increased number and ferocity. Medical records are more secure in these situations when kept electronically. The tragic loss of paper records during any disaster is but one of the many heart rending aspects of them. Still, by storing the data securely on a remote online server, you take an easy and necessary preventive measure against such a loss.
- Office Hours. The idea of doctor’s office hours is becoming outmoded. Patients want access to their own records anytime and anywhere, regardless of whether their doctor is available. Medical records and test results should be available at all times to patients from any web-connected portal, as is the case with any standard electronic health record system readily available.
- It’s Green. A Kaiser Permanente study published in the May 2011 issue of Health Affairs reported that electronic records not only save thousands of tons of paper, but accompanying technologies like virtual visits also reduce greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprints by reducing some face-to-face visits. That said, there will always be a need for direct doctor-patient interaction—no one wants to replace these visits outright. However, technologies like online prescription-drug filling are worthwhile improvements that eliminate some inefficient and unneeded interpersonal contact, and certainly go hand in hand with electronic health record availability.
- Forward-thinking Clinicians. Your doctor’s willingness or reluctance to embrace so non-controversial a technology as electronic health records signals to some extent whether s/he is up-to-date on new and effective methodologies for patient care. What patient doesn’t want a doctor who is knowledgeable and comfortable with the latest tools in treatment? This is precisely the idea behind continuing medical education (CME).
- Your Records Travel with You. When you travel locally or abroad, you want to know that if you get sick, whoever is treating you will have access to your latest medical procedures, medications, and care instructions your physician may have included in your record. This increases the chances you will get appropriate care, regardless of where you are in the world.
- Difficult Family Decisions. If a patient has a medical directive in their will, medical records can show what the next of kin should do based on those records and documentation of any conversations they’ve had with their physician. Electronic records eliminate the need to read through reams of paper, and simplify the next of kin’s already difficult task of making decisions for their loved one.
- Family Sharing. Electronic medical records allow family members to better share information related to historical medical factors that can affect the care of a patient in the future.
- Switching Physicians. Data portability is an important factor when moving or otherwise switching physicians. A patient that owns their records and stores them electronically will have a much easier time ensuring critical health info goes along with them wherever they are. If the idea of requesting a copy of your medical records raises your blood pressure slightly, electronic records you own and maintain are the right choice for you.
- Record Veracity. Similar to checking your credit history annually to be sure there are no inaccuracies or incorrect reporting, verifying the accuracy of your medical records is vital. The best way to do this personal, secure access. Errors in your medical records can impact insurance premiums, disability payments, and other medical-related rates. Transcription Errors. Doctors who use electronic records usually have fewer transcription errors. It’s up to you to make sure your doctor does everything possible to avoid mistakes. And in addition to avoiding mistakes, electronic health records have been shown to reduce redundant tests, saving you time, money, and in some cases discomfort.
(RUNNING & FITNEWS® September / October 2011 • Volume 29, Number 5)