Friday, March 18, 2011

Your health records: more like a blog, or more like Twitter?

For over a decade I traveled 30 miles south to a rural clinic along I-45 in Fairfield, Texas. There I met one of those physicians that people always think of when they think the word "doctor."

Dr. John Keller is a community icon.

Born south of this small town, he practiced medicine there for over 50 years. Now he's retired, and the community is at a loss.

Though certainly not the cause, his retirement coincided with the roll out of a new electronic medical record, or EMR (sometimes AKA EHR).

This reminded me of a story from Dr. Keller that he related to me over a decade ago. He told me that when he first went into practice records were kept on 3"x 5" note cards.

As someone who has served in various administrative capacities over the years, I've always remembered Dr. Keller's initial non-electronic medical record. And I suspected that his care was super, despite the limitations of space on that card.

Today, EMRs are becoming more and more common. There is still significant resistance from some physicians because of the lack of a unified national standard of connectivity.

That is, one system still can't talk to another.

Plus there is the cost of implementation. Some estimates put this near $60,000 per physician in a practice.

In this day of declining reimbursement it's hard for many medical practices to take the plunge and invest in this new technology.

Plus there is the whole slew of resistance remarks that range from "it'll slow down my productivity," "I'm too old to learn," "there isn't one for my specialty," and on and on.

Personally (albeit I'm a self professed techno-nerd) I haven't seen any of these problems.

We use a nice cloud based system from AthenaHealth which allows us to limit our on site technical requirements and back up, is constantly up to date, and can be accessed anywhere. Patients can even log in to check their test results, pay their bill, or ask me a question.

The electronic prescribing is phenomenal. I haven't written more than a handful of paper prescriptions in a year or so.

But even with all this technology, I'm not sure that we practice medicine any better today than Dr. Keller did fifty years ago. We just document a whole lot more information.

But is it useful?

We're pretty good at not generating a ream of electronic information every time a patient comes in. Some EMR systems accomplish this task (conventional wisdom is that it might help with coding and therefore reimbursement).

But, we chart way more than Dr. Keller ever did. I hope it's still pertinent to our patients complaint.

What's amazing to me is that as we have advanced in our technology we have become more verbose in our ability to describe it.

You could say that we are "health care bloggers" in the patients' medical record.

Whereas Dr. Keller was more like Twitter. He kept his comments to probably less than 140 characters -- and he did just fine.

So Dr. Keller may have been ahead of his time. Maybe we should "follow" him.

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