The Possibilities Are Endless

Physician's Money Digest, March 2007, Volume 14, Issue 3

We have entered a very exciting time in the development of electronic medical records (EMRs). Vendors are introducing improved technologies, practices are recognizing return on investment benefits from EMR implementation, and the field as a whole is maturing. With all of these positive changes, many physicians are realizing that the implementation of EMRs cannot be avoided; it can only be delayed. And with costs and disruptions, delays may be painful for the primary care practice.

In the past, the concept of electronic health records (EHRs) took many forms. For example, computer-based patient records represented a goal of centralized databases containing lifelong patient histories. Today, there appears to be a consensus on systems based on the patient information created and maintained within the doctor's office, hospital, clinic, or nursing home. In this paradigm, your practice "enterprise" is the guardian and curator of patients' medical record information. But in order to successfully achieve a true EHR, you will need to share and exchange some of the patient information with other authorized providers. This is the model of the electronic medical record system (EMRS).

A patient's health information usually consists of more than what you create and maintain in your practice. In today's complex health care system, almost every patient is seeing specialists who have their own archive of health information. In addition to provider-based medical records, a patient may have health and wellness information at a sports club, pharmacy, insurance company, place of employment, and in their own personal health files. A patient may also have alternative care providers such as chiropractors and acupuncturists. All of these records collectively represent the total picture of a person’s wellness, health status, and medical care. When all of this information is computerized and gathered together, it becomes a complete EHR. It is a summary of all the EMRs a patient has, plus other wellness and health management information that is kept by other entities such as payers. Access to this information can prove invaluable to the primary care physician.

However, when interoperability is at stake, the EHR is difficult to implement due to its complexity and the large number of stakeholders whose systems of documentation must be standardized. The rewards are worth the obstacles that must be faced. If you haven’t considered integrating an EMR into your practice, don’t wait any longer. The EMRS will be the essential technology needed to survive the health care challenges of our time.

C. Peter Waegemann is the CEO of Medical Records Institute