Are They Yours or Theirs ?
Everybody knows what medical records are; they’re the fist-full of papers that doctors riffle through several times in the few minutes they spend with you. Now it looks like the medical industry is going to get billions of dollars to automate them. If the project goes according to plan, doctors will be able to enter data directly into a computer and retrieve it as needed. Bully! They should be able to save a lot of money by not having to hire clerks anymore to keep track of the vast number of individual files, which, by law, they now have to maintain. This is all to the good and should have been done early-on in the computer age.
But this is 2009. Everyone in the industry knows that just automating a paper system is almost a total waste of effort. Even if existing files are digitized they will surely not be very useful for any purpose, other than litigation, possibly.
To be of value to the the medical profession, and possibly even to patients in the long run, medical records have to record specific data, such as pulse, temperature and the results of exotic tests that relate to the physical condition of specific patients. Therefore, it is both the current physical condition of the patients and their medical histories that must be captured and then recovered to be of value.
Over my lifetime of eighty some years my medical history will be impossible to recover, even if I could remember all of the doctors I have seen. But I am not convinced that all of that lost history needs to be recovered to provide my current health-care providers with information they need to give me good medical care. It is the current state of my body that is important. Most of the data needed can be easily captured in a typical physical checkup. Moreover, if digitized by the equipment currently available, the data could be entered automatically into databases that are accessible by me, and anyone I authorize to use them, over the Internet. Also the results of special tests can be added any time. In addition all of the activities we engage in, such as eating, exercising, pill taking, etc, could be a part of the data.  
If implemented on a national scale, such databases would soon contain enough data for medical researchers to make real progress. Of course, we shouldn't ignore the anecdotal information that individuals can and will want to provide, such as having mumps or chicken pox, or  that grandpa died of tuberculosis -- mine did. Nevertheless, I believe the new data on its own can quickly become so valuable that we should put our priorities on capturing it before we worry about getting old data. Finally, and most importantly, I believe individuals should own all of the data about themselves, which they can freely use for their own purposes, but can make available to doctors and others should they choose.  
“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”
 Lao Tzu
Friday, January 16, 2009
Personal Health Records