If you have been to your doctor's office lately, you most likely saw some of the changes that have resulted as medical professionals have been mandated to keep all of their medical records electronically. My last visit to my primary care physician's office was a surprise when my doctor walked in with her computer in hand and started asking me a series of questions and was focused on inputting my responses into that computer without ever glancing at me even one time. The lengthy list of questions that she would have asked in the past was not included as it appeared that she was trying to just focus in on the minimal amount of information needed to assess my current reason for being in her office. The time that she spent with me seemed to be little more than 5 minutes and when we were done, I left feeling like I was no longer a patient but more like a customer.
This has troubled me ever since as this is not the same doctor that I have been seeing for nearly 10 years. I thought that maybe since I was not there for a major problem that I just didn't matter that much. However, I am now beginning to understand a whole lot more about what is occurring in many doctors' offices now. That computer is only one small part of the changes. Medical records have to be computerized and everything has to be coded in order to receive payments from insurance companies and the Federal government as well as to set up a program where electronic medical records can be shared with other doctors and hospitals. And while all of this sounds so good for patient care, a closer look already is revealing many problems.
While doctors' offices now have software programs for the intake and processing of your personal information, there are a lot of different software programs in use and those programs do not talk to each another. This means that while your primary care physician has already done an initial workup on you and needs to refer you to a specialist, there is a very good likelihood that unless they are in the same medical network, your initial information can't be shared. And what happens if you change doctors or medical groups? What will happen with regard to all of your current medical records that you were led to believe could just be sent to whomever you wanted? My next question is what if your very important medical information is not correctly coded? Will this result in improper medications being prescribed or incorrect testing being requested?
Another major problem is computers themselves. If you are reading this, you have some sort of computer right now. However, what happens when your server is not working? You can't use the computer. That is not exactly conducive to running a business where you may need access to critical information right now and you can't get to it. In the doctor's office when that computer goes down, the doctor is back to taking written notes and then having to spend more time later inputting that information into the computer. And if you happen to be in the office when the computer is not working, the doctor may not have immediate access to test results, etc. in order to give you the accurate and up-to-date information that you need. How many times have you called to get test results and were told that the computer was down and that you would have to call back or someone else would have to call you back? More waiting, more lost efficiency and great costs for double work will result.
Then there is the question of the security of the information. There is hacking of all kinds of records now. Some hackers do it just to prove that they can do it but many others do it for profit. Can you imagine the impact of such hacking of medical records if hackers were able to gain access to medical information for company executives and prominent people in the news and entertainment? How would you feel if you knew that someone had gained access to your most personal information and they were now able to do with it as they wished? You might be blackmailed or someone may set out to ruin your future with the information that they have garnered. And how do you control with whom your information is shared? What if a group of doctors are working on some research and your records are shared among that group or are shared out to a larger group for profit? With your information now being so readily accessible, it is really time to stop and think about all of these scenarios and decide whether you are ready and willing to take chances with the most important information that represent your health and your life.