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Electronic Health Records Will Revolutionize Patient Care

Google and Microsoft are exploring the concept of storing personal health records online. You can access Google Health or Microsoft HealthVault and have some of your personal medical history consolidated electronically.

Today, physicians exchange health records on paper. They photocopy and fax documents wasting time and money in an effort to keep up with the ever-growing volume of patient information. This mountain of paperwork will only get worse as the population ages.

Electronic health records are similar to electronic financial records. We pay bills, trade stocks, and prepare taxes online. These services make our lives simpler while saving us time and money. We will never go back to paper financial transactions.

The new services from Google and Microsoft could revolutionize health records in the same way. Both services allow you to consolidate medical information by importing data from multiple providers. This is a voluntary program and only healthcare providers that choose to participate can be included.

Once your medical history is consolidated, you can track medical conditions, learn about drug interactions and find doctors. Microsoft also allows you to upload data from some medical devices to track statistics such as your body weight, blood pressure, blood glucose, heart rate, etc.

These services are built as software platforms enabling other firms to add features and customize the user experience. We are seeing the beginning of what will become a major trend with huge potential.

Your lab and radiology reports could be saved online. You will have access to the complete history of your medical condition. Sharing information with healthcare providers will be simple and you will be assured that everyone is seeing the same up to date information.

Having all of our prescription and non-prescription medications online will make it easy for doctors to check for drug interactions. We could order refills and compare brand names against generics.

If you go to an emergency room, you will see a strange doctor who knows nothing about you and any pre-existing conditions. The doctor relies on your answers to important questions to help determine the best treatment option. Online access to your medical records will save time and assure accuracy.

Most of us have multiple doctors each specializing is some aspect of our care. For example, you may see a primary care physician, specialist, dentist, and eye doctor. None of these doctors has a complete view into all aspects of your health. They each maintain a portion of your medical history.

Our healthcare system gives us access to the best physicians in the world and leaves the door open to major medical mistakes caused by limited access to patient information.

What would our financial system be like if we were allowed to run up huge credit card balances that were hidden from other lenders? We would have easy access to money and a free pass to bankruptcy.

Electronic health records have not gained traction to date for several reasons. Among them are a lack of technology standards, poor interoperability among vendors, and little or no financial incentive for providers.

Lack of technology and interoperability standards is being driven on a number of fronts. Notably, the U.S. Government has a keen interest in these areas due to the enormous amount of money spent on veterans and retirees.

Lack of financial incentives is a tougher problem. Change in the healthcare field is driven by advances in patient care and cost reductions. It is difficult for individual practitioners to justify the investment in electronic health records based on these criteria. For this reason, patients and independent information service providers need to lead the charge.

While the benefits are obvious, there are at least two major challenges to having our medical records online. The most obvious is trust. Will consumers trust online services to protect their information? Gaining trust will not be easy or quick.

Consumers must have complete control over who has access to their records. This needs to be more than just a login ID and password. We need to control who has read-only access and who can update our records. We also need the ability to set expiration dates on access rights we grant.

The other major challenge is getting healthcare providers to participate. The healthcare industry is partitioned. Doctors and hospitals operate independently only sharing information when needed. This will change as patients demand access to and control over their medical records.

Change will not be easy. Our financial records are still not fully electronic despite years of effort by the financial industry. We still write checks and receive financial statements by mail.

As our population ages and medical science becomes ever more complex, the amount of medical information stored will grow far beyond any other consumer data. Google and Microsoft deserve credit for beginning to address the problems.

Vin D'Amico is Founder and President of DAMICON, your ADJUNCT CIO™. He helps companies avoid the subtle mistakes that cause missed deadlines, lost opportunities and fragile results. He shows them agile approaches that slash risk and cut development time so they get to market 25-50% faster. He helps them carry that momentum into the sales cycle using white papers and case studies that accelerate the selling process.

This article appeared in Vin's monthly Virtual Business column for the IndUS Business Journal in August 2008.

To learn more about how DAMICON can help your business, please take a look at our service programs.

Virtual Business

Virtual Business

This column appears monthly in the IndUS Business Journal.