ehealth and a challenge of sharing information

by Hans on 2006/01/22

Recently, I accompanied my mom to the local hospital. A few days ago, my mom fell during an ice storm and broke her wrist. Luckily, she was able to see the orthopaedic surgeon at the fracture clinic to rule out any complications.

This particular hospital has a very interesting set-up. There are computer carts located outside of every examination room (sorry, no photos as I forgot to bring a camera). The carts themselves were pretty lo-tech (a PC mounted on a cart, with the case locked in a protective housing). But, the number of units actually surprised me. Obviously, this hospital has invested quite a bit on computers. As an aside, I noticed that the interface seemed very basic – text based with only a handful of primary colours. I wonder if any usability testing has been done.

In any case, what I want to write about is that there are dangers to having so much computerization. When my mom checked in with the receptionist, a paper file was created (now that I think about it, it’s sort of odd). The surgeon and ortho tech used the paper file to record some information. What was interesting, however, was that the file had all of my mom’s demographic information. During a short wait to get the cast, I took a quick glance at the chart and noticed that there were information errors. Luckily, the information was not that important and can be easily corrected. When I notified one of the health professionals, they said to notify them during the next visit.

Okay, so from an ehealth/research perspective, I think we all need to recognize that there can be problems/dangers with having information automatically stored and reproduced. Perhaps patients should be required to confirm information on their chart each and every time they visit a health care institution. Imagine some of the problems that could occur if information collected and recorded at one institution is propagated throughout a regional or national electronic health record system.

I think that we need to remember that ehealth is not a panacea. I’ve always held the notion that the technology is only a magnifier of human capabilities – helping us do things faster (be they good or bad). In the case of health care, we need to remain vigilant in not assuming that the information found in the computer systems will always be correct.

{ 1 comment }

Mayooran January 29, 2006 at 10:36 am

I could not agree any more. ICT will help the heath care provision only if it is implemented properly. In health care wrong information can have fatal consequences and normally the doctors do well to avoid that by asking standard questions at a patient’s every visit. But with the wider use of Elecronic Care Records, that incentive may diminish and they may be tempted not to take a detailed history, especially of that of past medical, drugs and social histories.

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