Last year you may recall me discussing the current effort by the government to create electronic medical records by physicians, hospitals, and other health care providers (see "My Dinner with the Doctor"). In a nutshell, the government is blackmailing doctors into automating all of their medical records. As a follow-up, I recently discussed this effort with my doctor friend to see how he was progressing, and a senior hospital administrator I also happen to know. Both claimed the effort was a nightmare and their time was being monopolized converting old records into an electronic format.
In theory, such an effort means a patient who travels away from home will be able to easily access his medical records which can greatly facility him/her receiving the proper treatment in the event of an emergency. Sounds good, right? Not so fast. I was horrified to discover the government never issued any standards by which data should be captured, stored, and shared in a secure manner. The only requirement was that the medical records were converted to electronic format, regardless of what that might be. As I was to learn, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of vendors selling computer software packages designed to manage patient records. Not surprising, each vendor took their own unique approach to designing their software which means there is an alarming number of incompatibilities between the different products. How one company stores patient data in a computer file is incompatible with another vendor. This means doctors and hospitals cannot share data as easily as was hoped. In other words, the government took a noble idea and botched it by failing to define any standards. Just because your primary physician has your medical records recorded one way, doesn't mean another doctor can read it (unless, of course, the doctor happens to have the same medical records software). Despite the government's initiative, doctors will still be dependent on faxes as opposed to a modern and secured data exchange. As an aside, my doctor friend received 18K faxes last year representing 50K pieces of paper (and that is just one doctor). The government's new program does nothing to curtail this problem.
In order to meet government deadlines, doctors, nurses and other health care workers are swamped inputting data into their computers, a talent for which they are not necessarily suited. As a result, doctors are spending less time practicing medicine and more time as data entry clerks. Likewise, nurses are spending the lion's share of their time inputting data and allowing their assistants to care for patients instead. As an old systems man, I asked the obvious question, "Although you are inputting a considerable amount of data, what are you getting OUT of the system in return? How is this helping you with patient care?"
Remarkably, the doctors didn't see the system as a valuable tool, but more as a hindrance to serving their patients. This caused me to ask, "So who is going to use all of this data you are entering?" It was their guess it was intended for attorneys and government bureaucrats, certainly not for the patient or medical community. Only then did it occur to me the medical community was not alone in this regard. To illustrate, government regulations are becoming overbearing on educators who are having to spend more and more time inputting data and less time teaching. In other words, the medical and education professions are two prime examples of obnoxious government regulations having an adverse effect on the sheer nature of their work. There are likely many more examples, particularly in the law enforcement, military, and financial industries, institutions who are being greatly inhibited by obnoxious government red tape. It is one thing to insist on certain regulations, quite another to devise rational systems that enhances the volume and quality of work. My concern is we are turning our society into nothing but data entry clerks solely to feed the government's insatiable hunger for superfluous data.
My doctor friend also happened to mention that in a few weeks his hospital will be going "paperless" with a new system that will also conform to the government electronic medical records initiative. So far, training for the new system has been abysmal, documentation is non-existent, and nobody trusts the new system. Yet, hospital officials are determined to switch to the new system all at once on a Sunday, not carefully implemented in planned stages. I asked my friend how he planned to participate in the system's implementation. "Two things," he said, "First, I plan on releasing all of my patients from the hospital on the day before the system is to go live."
"And Second?" I asked.
"I plan to be on vacation that week. I don't want to be anywhere near that hospital when it melts down."
It kind of gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling of confidence, doesn't it?
Keep the Faith!
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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Copyright © 2012 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.