Electronic information is here to stay, and most of us will wonder how we ever did without instantaneous access to notes, results, scans, and diaries. However, a recent situation in Queensland makes me wonder if we're not sometimes better sticking with old-fashioned pen and paper.
A medical clinic was hacked by an Eastern European group, who encrypted the medical clinic's electronic records and refused to unlock them until a ransom was paid. The clinic was left without any patient information, though they could still access external providers, such as pathology agencies.
While I'm one of the first to jump on the electronic bandwagon, I do recognize that there is a heavy reliance on it and that at times, it creates more problems than it solves.
We've all heard patients lament about results being lost or computers being down, resulting in delays and frustrations. Doctor's rooms don't function without electronic devices anymore, and I think that sometimes there is even less direct, face-to-face communication, with health professionals talking to a computer screen rather than the person sitting opposite them.
I miss the days of flicking though the pages of a diary and rubbing out a canceled booking, though I don't miss manually counting things in order to do the stats.
My other gripe with electronic medical records is that it's only as good as the information that goes in, and that it hasn't improved medical note-taking or the quality of information. Even with mandatory fields in databases, so much information goes unrecorded that it can sometimes make the record next to useless. I wonder in these cases if the person doing the note taking has a hate-hate relationship with computers and would document more with good old-fashioned paper.
Information technology has so much to offer, and there is no getting away from it. The Australian government is in the process of setting up a national consumer electronic health database to enable better information sharing between health professionals. Controlled by the consumer, it is supposedly an ongoing health record that can be accessed by anyone the consumer gives consent to. Both consumers and health professionals alike have been slow to embrace this, as they have the understandable anxiety about the security of the information, and given the Queensland incident, it may be well warranted.
Communication is all about the right tool at the right (or write) time. Face-to-face trumps a phone call, which beats an email, but there is always a time and a place for the handwritten.
At times, I crave the simplicity and reassurance that a pencil and paper brings. At other times, I'm forever grateful that we can now read some of the totally illegible handwriting of our colleagues and can simply Ctrl F (command F if you are an Apple user like me) our way through screeds of notes to find what we're after.
What are some of the pros and cons that you experience with electronic health records?