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01:45 PM
Kathy Burger
Kathy Burger
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It’s Time to Be Critical of Conditions

From wasteful testing to the risk of mistakes, for those who have spent time in a hospital recently, the need for e-records couldn't be more clear.

It often seems that much of the debate about proposed changes in healthcare delivery and health insurance in this country is about theory and philosophy, and not much about experience and reality. If you or those close to you have never experienced a chronic illness, accident or other medical catastrophe, no matter how many statistics you cite you still are only talking in abstractions and theories. But if you've been around the block, so to speak, a few times, you've undoubtedly seen the good, the bad and the ugly about the U.S. healthcare system.

As I've had the unfortunate opportunity to observe, these all can be in evidence in a single claim, test or hospital stay. Recently my husband had minor surgery at a local hospital. He had the standard preadmission blood work done a week in advance at his internist's office, and we made sure that the lab knew where to fax the results. But when the physician's assistant who was taking my husband's medical history (which, by the way, he'd provided in detail at the same hospital, in the same department, four weeks earlier when he had a similar procedure) finally found the faxed lab report amid scribbled notes and a messy stack of forms and other papers, he discovered that the report was completely illegible. So my husband had to have exactly the same blood work done again right then and there in the hospital.

If I'd ever had any doubts or questions about the value of electronic medical records, this episode -- which embodied so much that is wasteful about our current system -- would have overcome them. No wonder healthcare costs are out of control when tests have to be duplicated because the reported results are unreadable. It's not that this facility and the people who work there aren't doing their best to provide care and service to patients, but mistakes are bound to occur when lists of medications have to be copied over and over by hand, and when loose pages of physician orders, patient records and even insurance information are shuffled, rearranged, clipped and stapled, and stuck into manila folders that get knocked off tables or lost in a pile of similar folders on a desk.

There are many objective and authoritative explanations for why e-records should become standard (several of these analyses appear in a special report you can read here). But go beyond theory to an actual experience and you might conclude that changing the healthcare system is a matter of life and death.

Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & Technology in 1991. In addition to ... View Full Bio

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