By Dr. Lewis Zulick
There is a lot written both in the lay press and also in professional medical journals about the electronic medical record (the “EMR”) and its role in modern health care. The descriptions range from an incredibly valuable tool to the worst thing that ever happened to the physician –patient relationship.
I will say right up front that I am a huge fan of EMR’s. When I compile the advantages that information systems in health care have provided since my entry into the field in the early 80s, it is a long list. The availability of patient data and the improvement in time saved gathering it through the use of an EMR has been nothing short of remarkable. The real difficulty with EMR’s for most healthcare providers is the actual data entry. Most patients have now had the experience of their doctor paying more attention to their computer during their visit than to them. Providing all the information in the record that is necessary during a simple office visit can require a lot of time and effort which would be better spent simply listening to the patient and examining them. Part of the problem certainly is the degree of documentation that has become necessary due to medical legal considerations but documentation of the entire medical condition of a single patient can be extremely complex even without those medicolegal hoops to jump through. Getting all that information in place is important as that individual moves through the healthcare system and is seen by multiple healthcare providers. As electronic medical records mature, I predict that this documentation will become easier for the doctor and less intrusive on the patient visit.
An underutilized feature of the EMR is it’s availability to the patient themselves. All modern EMR’s provide access to patients if they take advantage of it. Once secure access to the EMR is established using a username and password, one can view one’s medical record at any time. Doing so can help make sure the record is accurate and enhance communication with members of the healthcare team for such things as test results, appointment times and coordinating care between providers. If you have not done so by now, I strongly encourage you to use this feature of the EMR. Your physician’s office will have instructions on how to sign up and sign on.