Last week, I read a story in The Star about a mother of eight who said she had a tubal ligation at one of our public hospitals after her eighth child but had two subsequent pregnancies.
Interestingly, she challenged the hospital, and according to the report, the facility said it could find no record of her being a patient despite her children being born there, as shown on their birth certificates.
This got me thinking about the importance of having proper records in health care and how electronic medical records could solve much of the age-old problems we have faced in the public and private sectors related to patient record and continuity of care.
Unfortunately, this lady’s case is not the first as many others have complained about their dockets being missing when they request them.
We can just look at the frustration of lawyers and judges in court proceedings that require medical records, especially from public facilities, to understand the urgency of the issue.
It may seem simple to some, but missing dockets and other records can be the difference between life and death for many persons. My own relative who had cancer was sent back for new appointments several times because her test results could not be found.
Unfortunately, she died before the proper care could even be attempted, and I strongly believe that if it hadn’t been for this delay, she would perhaps be alive today. I doubt very much that this situation is unique to my family.
Luckily, the Ministry of Health has made a commitment to digitising its hospital and health centre operations. The University Hospital of the West Indies has already started. There are many benefits to doing this.
One is the development and use of electronic medical records (EMR). EMR is simply a digital representation of a patient’s medical history, including doctor’s notes, diagnoses, diagnostic and test results such as MRI and X-ray and any other relevant health information that can be shared across a platform for access by all caregivers, and in some cases the patient.
A nationally embraced EMR will provide several benefits and will result in overall improvement in patient care across the public and private sectors.
For one, the linkages made will mean that there will always be enough information available to the practitioner to ensure continuity of care no matter where the patient seeks medical attention, whether in another parish, the private or the public sector.
Less Medical Errors
This means that there will be more safety in diagnosis leading to less medical errors, improved clinical decision-making, better treatment, increased effectiveness, efficiency and timeliness.
EMR will ensure a truly patient-centred health care system, a commitment of our present minister of health. The patient given access to at least a part of his/her medical history can also actively participate in his/her own care.
This is becoming more and more popular today, especially with the proliferation of remote care management tools as well as fitness trackers and other monitors. The most effective EMR will be one in which every aspect of the patient encounter is digitally captured from registration to discharge.
This way, the system can also consider important socio-economic factors that may impact care. For example, whether a person would likely be able to afford a certain medication or would need state assistance or perhaps a cheaper combination of drugs that may provide the same benefits.
It could also detect drug allergies and interactions which are important to determining treatment. In the case of persons who may require immediate intervention, records and test results would be easily accessible, which will aid in fast-tracking treatment if needed.