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Computerized Records



In this day and age of computer technology, and incredible medical advances, it’s amazing the vast majority of medical practices are still keeping their medical records the old fashioned way: on paper.


Experts are saying the time is now for a change.


The reasons for an electronic medical record system are endless: illegible physician handwriting, with resultant medical errors, lost pages or entire charts, resulting in gaps in a patient’s medical history.  There’s also the time it takes to create the written record, and then find it, say, in a hospital, when often time is important in patient care.


The technology is here, doctors just need to start using it.


Dr. Sheldon Jacobson, Chairman of the Emergency Department at Mt. Sinai Medical Center, as he shows off the completely computerized and paperless E.R. there, says, “I can order any test I want for the patient, I just click and it’ll go right to the nurse and to the laboratory at the same time.”


It’s a system designed to minimize errors…and provide expeditious care. All the records, from history to labs to EKG’s are always in the system, always retrievable.  “It’s stored in cyber space and you can bring the records down any time you need them. It automatically checks the medication list the patient is on so there are no drug interactions, it also checks for allergies, it can fax a copy of the chart to the patients primary physician,” points out Dr. Jacobson.


If there was ever a perfect example of why electronic medical records are so important, you need look no further than Katrina.  Thousands if not millions of medical records are lost, and many patients don’t know what medicines they’re on, what their medical problems are.


There is one bright spot: the New Orleans VA medical center; 50,000 patients records survived because the VA has an electronic medical record system.  All the records were reentered into a computer system in Houston.


Still, the latest research shows just 14 percent of all medical group practices use electronic medical records, and many hospitals are reticent to sign up. 


The government wants to have the nation’s medical records computerized within the next decade.  But expense, and difficulty getting competing hospital systems to cooperate with one another have been major hurdles.


For an individual practice, the cost to start a system averages more than 30,000 a physician.


Still, dr. Elton Strauss, an orthopedist, thinks the system in place in his practice—on which all x-rays, lab reports and operative reports are found-- has streamlined and improved care of his patients.  “I can go to my computer at home and log onto the hospital computer and see al the studies and call the patient on the weekend or at night and discuss the reports with more clarity,” says Dr. Strauss. 


And given many patients don’t know their own medical problems or medications they’re taking, an electronic record available would be invaluable.  “I’ll say one of your doctors prescribed something like this?  And they say, I don’t know.  If we had a national data base, we’d know that,” Dr. Strauss states.


And nationwide access to records would help accelerate medical research.  “It’s an unbelievable tool waiting to help us improve public health,” remarks Dr. Jacoboson.


It’s a tool an industry, so typically on the cutting edge, so hesitant to embrace.


Dr. Strauss adds, “You can’t be afraid of technology and you can’t be afraid of change. If you’re afraid of change, you shouldn’t be in medicine.”


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