Death is an unavoidable part of life. It can come at almost any time and from almost any source. Even something as simple as a walk down a flight of stairs has the potential to lead to tragedy. Hospitals have generally been seen as man's last bastion of hope against the specter that is Death. However, just like death, human error is also unavoidable. When these two unavoidable factors come together in a medical institution where salvation is expected, the result is tragedy. Needlessly, thousands of lives have been lost due to simple human mistakes in the very place where the best chance of saving those lives could be found. Despite the expense and hurdles of implementation, the establishment of an Electronic Medical Record (EMR) infrastructure is an essential key to saving lives and money over the long term.
Admittedly, putting an interconnected network of EMR systems throughout a country is a daunting prospect and will be time-consuming and expensive. Getting a single facility to make the switchover from standard physical records would be a challenge. The cost of purchasing the required equipment, providing training for staff and the long task of converting existing records into an electronic format have given most medical facilities reason for pause. In addition, with this technology there are associated privacy concerns. As one Director of Information Systems by the name of Lincoln Stein outlined in a paper (Stein, 1997), these concerns are over the possibility of the system being ‘hacked’ into or even legitimate access being abused by inquisitive personnel. These crucial issues have to be addressed from the outset of the design of any such system. However, they are not insurmountable and careful forethought and security restrictions the EMR system can be protected and considered safe. The potential good of its implementation outweighs with the potential bad.
In contrast to the current paper archives, EMR allows for redundancy in the face of calamity. Even something outside of Mother Nature’s arsenal, such as a ruptured water main or a fire can destroy physical records. Catastrophic loss is avoidable with EMR because they are capable of being easily backed-up, ideally to a remote location or another facility. The Cadence Group examined this issue using the event of Hurricane Katrina where medical, business and even legal records were destroyed by the flooding but electronic records that had backups were saved (Cadence Group, 2005). The net result is a far more robust system that can allow remarkable resilience, even in the face of extreme situations.
Next, one of the immediate advantages would be improved safety and overall efficiency of a patient’s journey through the medical system. In the current paper-based system charts are misfiled, pages lost, files misplaced, and an unfortunately situated cup of coffee (or urine specimen), can wipe out a patient's entire medical history. There is also the infamous illegibility of doctors' handwriting, which can render important medical information inaccessible. Mistakes during transcription can be propagated throughout the written record. Sometimes consequences of such mistakes are mild: a form has to be filled out again or a quick test has to be repeated. In tragic scenarios, the outcomes of those mistakes are life changing: surgeries performed on wrong patients or limbs, expensive and painful tests performed repeatedly and in the worst case: death. The Time magazine published an article citing a 2006 Institute of Medicine study which indicated that over 7000 deaths were on account of unreadable handwriting (Caplan, 2007).
A direct consequence of the improved reliability and efficiency is the promise of tremendous savings in financial terms. The advent of a widespread, interoperable EMR system has the potential to save over 160 billion dollars annually in the United States alone (Hillestad et al., 2005). EMR can practically eliminate costs for space and...
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