Using technology to transform patient care

January 12, 2012 By Jeffrey Finkelstein, M.D., FACEP

Imagine this scenario: You have a serious dizzy spell one weekend and have to visit the Emergency Department (ED). You're confused, and can't recall all your medical conditions and medications you're taking. Your ED nurse and physician can find out immediately, by accessing your medical record on the computer. There they'll find all the information they need to treat you -- data your primary care physician (PCP) and other specialists have entered into your record over time about your medications, conditions, past test results, and more.

After your visit, your PCP is electronically notified of your ED visit and can access your electronic medical record, including information your ED physician and nurse entered about your diagnosis and treatments. Your PCP calls or emails you to set up a follow-up appointment. Your physician orders a few more tests and 48 hours later, you log in to a secure patient portal and review your results.

This is the kind of scenario the federal government hopes hospitals, physician offices and other healthcare providers will turn into reality as part of the government's “meaningful use” initiative. The term “meaningful use” refers to the meaningful use of technology, including electronic health records (EHRs) and other advances, to help improve patient care and safety and reduce healthcare costs.

What's the value in electronic health records? Caring for patients involves many different people, lots of data and a variety of departments within a hospital, as well as physician offices and other healthcare providers outside the hospital. EHRs will:
• Facilitate information sharing - among care providers, and between care providers and patients
• Make this information accessible at the point of care, whether in the Emergency Department, at a community physician's office or in a diagnostic lab
• Make medical personnel's job easier and more efficient
• Empower patients to take a more active role in their health and in the health of their families by giving them secure access to their electronic records.

In addition to EHRs, hospitals may pursue other technological advancements as part of meaningful use, including computerized physician order entry, in which physicians can enter orders for tests, medications and anything else needed directly into your electronic record.
Healthcare and technology have always gone hand-in-hand, but meaningful use and other exciting changes on the horizon will take the relationship to a new level, transforming the way we care for patients.

Jeffrey Finkelstein, M.D., FACEP, is chief of Emergency Services and Chief Medical Information Officer at The Hospital of Central Connecticut.