In many places on this blog, we have extolled the benefits of electronic medical records. Having easily transferable medical data seems highly desirable in a world where health care is becoming more and more specialized, and patients with multiple conditions also have multiple medications and doctors. They also have the potential to give patients access to their own records.
An article in The New York Times brings a different perspective to light. Just because electronic medical records do away with some level of bureaucratic paperwork, they come with their own set of systemic problems. Danielle Ofri, M.D. discusses the frustration of facing a 1,000 character limit while describing a patient’s complicated needs. She trims her description, but is unable to make her evaluations fit into the box. “In desperation,” she writes, “I call the help desk and voice my concerns. ‘Well, we can’t have the doctors rambling on forever,’ the tech replies.”
Let’s save character limits for Twitter. How can patients best be served if the technology that’s purportedly there to help them isn’t flexible enough to store all their information? “Most importantly, the electronic medical record affects how we think,” writes Ofri. “The system encourages fragmented documentation, with different aspects of a patient’s condition secreted in unconnected fields, so it’s much harder to keep a global synthesis of the patient in mind.”
Of course, electronic medical records are just beginning to gain widespread acceptance. We can only hope that problems like these will be addressed as soon as possible.