In January 2009, President Obama predicted “within five years, all of America’s medical records will be computerized. This will cut waste, eliminate red tape, and reduce the need to repeat extensive medical tests.”
Six years later, medical records aren’t much better than they were.
Patrick Caldwell gives us an overview of our country’s health records system in the latest Mother Jones. He affirms that government efforts to digitize our medical records have succeeded: “The percentage of US hospitals using digital records skyrocketed from 9.4 to 75.5 percent between 2008 and 2014.” We can thank companies like Epic for much of that success.
However, this success has failed in one crucial aspect: Legislators failed to plan for “interoperability” – that is, the ability for doctors and hospitals to share patient information from one EMR system to another.
The problem is that patients are mobile and don’t stick to just one provider for their whole lives. Rather, we tend to bounce around from our family doctor to a specialist to an urgent care center to the emergency room, depending on our medical needs. These providers all use different EMR systems. And most of their EMRs have trouble talking to each other.
As Caldwell points out, “Unless programmers ensure that their system properly integrates with another, a doctor’s computer might spit out something akin to emoticons when queried for key test results.”
This is a major oversight. And it’s an oversight that Epic has fully exploited for profit. Epic wants all hospitals to use its software exclusively, and to share information exclusively with other Epic users. By charging extra to make its patient data available to other systems, Epic has reaped a significant amount of money.
The good news: many EMR companies have come together to agree on standards for interoperability. Together they’ve formed an association called the CommonWell Health Alliance Partnership. There’s just one problem: Epic isn’t a member.
Until the industry achieves full interoperability, doctors will struggle to know their patients’ full medical history. And patients won’t get the care they deserve.
cartoon from: Elaine Justine Roque