NEW YORK — The United States has spent a lot of time and money to digitize health care records, but the effort has not gotten very far yet.
This is what patient advocate Dave deBronkart experienced recently when a relative went from a hospital to a rehabilitation facility after a hip replacement. Her chart had to be transported and then retyped upon her arrival, where her hyperthyroidism was transposed to “hypothyroidism.”
“She could have been prescribed the opposite medicine she needed, with disastrous consequences,” said deBronkart, who is known as e-Patient Dave on his blog and social media accounts.
His family was well-schooled, though, and after they asked to review the records, they spotted the mistake. The whole scenario would have been avoided with a more advanced record-keeping system that could transfer her records electronically.
Electronic health records in the United States are supposed to take full effect by 2015. Without that technical backbone, the promise of the Affordable Care Act — to provide better health care to more people for less money — may fail, according to experts.
The HITECH Act of 2009 provided the incentive money for the medical establishment to switch to electronic record-keeping.
To date, doctors and hospitals have received more than $6 billion from the government to make the change, according to the Health Information Management Systems Society, a nonprofit organization promoting information technology.
And even more money is coming for upgrades to meet a second phase of requirements, which allow for increased patient interaction with their own medical records. About 93 percent of doctors say they use some type of electronic record-keeping, which can mean anything from physicians’ notes to billing, according to management consulting company Accenture Plc.
But only 45 percent are using their systems to access data from outside their own organizations, which could simply mean looking up labs.
Far from worrying about the possibility that your data may be compromised, most experts have the opposite concern — that the systems are so closed off that the right people cannot access them.
And many electronic health record systems do not coordinate with each other because their development was left to the free market, said Kaveh Safavi, managing director of Accenture’s North American health industry unit. This means digitization is still in the experimental phase and that your doctors may not have settled on what software they are going to be using.
Black Book Rankings, which tracks the implementation of electronic health records, says that 17 percent of physician offices plan to change systems in the next year.
Keeping up with your own records will get easier as the next phase of health care reform comes about. Known by the lyrical term “Meaningful Use II,” mandates to be met by 2014 require electronic health records to be available to patients.
So far, interaction has mostly been in the form of test results available on a patient portal. But soon something called Blue Button access, named after a Veterans Administration program, will allow you to access your medical records. Another approach is OpenNotes, a program that lets the patient view the notes the doctor has written, and possibly comment on or question them.