03/02/2011 05:55 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Is Your MD Ready for the Electronic Health Record?

I recently read an article from Reuters about a Stanford University study that reported that electronic health records did little to improve the quality of patient care, even when there was decision support software that gives doctors tips on how best to treat specific conditions. This information should not be that surprising, email communication does not replace verbal collaboration.

Medicine is an art and a science and patient care does not always fit into a pre-fit format. That said, while I think that technology alone will not completely fix the quality of care patients receive, I do believe that it has a role in the future of healthcare, overall. Technology opens up incredible opportunities with usefulness dependent on how the information is inputted and how the computer generated information is utilized.

In the practice of radiology, technology is paramount in ensuring that radiologists have the tools they need to acquire and view images and provide the optimal conditions for interpretation and provide an accurate diagnosis to the referring physicians who are caring for the patient. Our team of musculoskeletal radiologists, technologists and staff at Hospital For Special Surgery are constantly improving how procedures and technologies can best provide the imaging services and care we provide to our patients and the diagnoses we deliver to our physician colleagues. These technological improvements are not only applicable to how images are acquired and viewed but also apply to front office technological advances that makes it easier for referring physicians to order imaging studies and for patients to schedule appointments. The goal of new technologies is to help with patient throughput, provide overall higher efficiency, and improve patient satisfaction and outcomes.

Recently, a major technological advancement in radiology was the conversion from film to digital image acquisition. This change was similar to converting from having prints developed in a drugstore compared to taking a digital picture and viewing it instantly on your computer, PDA or smartphone. PACS (Picture Archiving and Communication System) has become commonplace in hospital and imaging facilities. PACS is similar to a digital photo album on your computer. PACS archives patient image records and also allows multiple physicians to view these images simultaneously, regardless of their location. This ability for physicians to collaborate and view the same image and discuss their management treatment plans is a marked improvement from the era of carrying an x-ray film from one office to another. Physicians can access an imaging examination on their patient anytime and from anywhere provided that they have security access. This communication enables a faster patient turnaround and allows optimal collaboration between radiologist and the referring physician and between various surgical/medical subspecialists.

So, although technology is not going to solve all the healthcare issues, it does play an important role and should not be dismissed or ignored.