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Sunday, July 8, 2007

It's not 20th century: Electronic medical records and patient waiting times

Barbara Duck:

"I've always loved [my medical practice], they treat you like family," says patient Josh Dryman, a 33-year-old who lives in Laguna Niguel, California. "But I had to wait an hour in the lobby and wait in the exam room another half-hour. Now [that they have an electronic medical record], when you go in, they get you in right away and the staff seems a heck of a lot friendlier."

Most of the time it is pretty easy to detect once you walk in to a lobby of a practice, those still using paper seem to possess an atmosphere of chaos to some degree, and the entire staff appears rushed and somewhat stressed, whereby those offices using electronic records have much of this information at their fingertips on the computers, thus less physical movement in pulling charts, looking for faxes, etc. and this in itself allows the office to focus better on patient care and not chasing information.

"The average consumer takes it as a given that doctors have these systems in place," says Peter Lee, chief executive of the Pacific Business Group on Health, an employer coalition based in San Francisco. "They don't know how much medical care today is not 20th century, let alone 21st century, in terms of how much doctors rely on paper instead of computers."

Nationally, only about 20% of physician offices are computerized; the rest still rely on notoriously inefficient paper charts. But computers are an easy benchmark for quality. They can help a doctor not just keep track of files, but also send out prescriptions accurately and quickly, get lab results inserted into the record automatically and be reminded what the scientific evidence suggests is the next best step with a patient.

Advice: In choosing a physician, ask whether s/he uses an electronic medical record to look up lab results, allow lookup of your record during evenings and weekends when you are sick, reduce medication errors, foster email communication with patients, and generally join the 21st century.

Read a story on an exemplary health care provider with odd and useful electronic medical record recommendations for patients, or read more from the source blog post.


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