Digitalization of medical records: pearls and perils

Digitalization of medical records


Nitin K Sethi, MD


            No one would argue that digitalization of medical records represents a step in the right direction. The benefits are indeed many to reap. Digital medical records shall ensure rapid communication among caregivers and the current restriction of geography shall be overcome. A resident of Manhattan, who happens to fall ill in San Diego while on a business meeting, can rest assured that the doctor who is taking care of him in the ER shall have access to his medical history and medication list. He would know which drug to avoid based on previous history of drug allergies. Medical errors shall be avoided and costly investigations needed not be repeated. Would it potentially save a life? Yes it would. A comatosed patient brought to the ER after a motor vehicle accident cannot speak and give a history. Doctors waste precious moments trying to ascertain history from family and there are many times when we cannot track any family member to get relevant medical and surgical history. At times this lack of history and delay leads to potentially life saving treatments been denied to the patient. A case in point is the administration of a clot bursting drug to a patient who presents to the ER with an acute stroke. Unless we can document that the patient is not on any blood thinners, this therapy cannot be administered.

            Digital medical records shall also improve physician to physician communication and this shall be of tremendous benefit to patients with chronic disorders such as multiple sclerosis whose care involves multidisciplinary specialties. Care would be more coordinated and I think a win-win situation for all involved and I mean all. Patients would be treated as a whole and not in parts where the right hand does not know what the left hand does. Medical errors shall be avoided; cost of care would decrease benefiting doctors as well as insurance carriers.

            But just like a rose comes with thorns so does the good idea of digital medical records. It cannot succeed unless it is implemented in whole. Every hospital whether state or private run and every doctor clinic would have to be mandated to implement it otherwise like other bright ideas gone sour, we risk having a fractured system with some institutions having digital medical records and others paper records. Digitalization of medical records is not going to be cheap and we rather not add to our already inflated medical budget with a half hearted effort.