Electronic Medical Records

While research in medicine keeps improving people’s health and lives, the means with which patient records is kept also is progressing.  Whereas patient information was once kept in paper form, many healthcare facilities have switched to electronic medical records.  Electronic medical records are patient records that are kept in digital format.  Just like the paper records, the electronic medical records can contain patient demographics, medical history, immunization status, laboratory and testing information, prescription information, appointment scheduling, claims and payment information, and patient reminders.

While it would seem the patient records in digital format would be easier to access and backup, only about 10% of American hospitals have adopted the electronic medical records format.  President Bush created the Office of National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) in 2004.  This office set up Regional Health Information Organizations (RHIOs) in many states to help promote the sharing of health information and Congress is working on increasing funding.  The National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom is very interested in getting their paper patient records converted over to electronic medical records.  By 2010, they hope to have 60,000,000 patients transferred to electronic medical records.

Why are some physicians and hospitals concerned about switching over to a system that seems to be more convenient and easier to use?  Some are concerned about the confidentiality of patient records that are maintained on an electronic system.  When patient records are put on a computer, there is fear that someone on the Internet who is unauthorized to view them might be able to access those records.  Other hospitals are hesitant to move to an electronic medical records system because they do not have the technology or it is not readily available.  The hospital would need software, hardware, and networking technologies to be able to share the electronic medical records and many are just not willing to spend the money when the paper system of patient records seems to work fine.

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