Computers have become a ubiquitous presence in all fields of business. From the farmer who keeps stock of his crops and field rotations to teachers who plan their lessons and keep track of attendance, everyone has gone electronic. But not everybody believes in the power of computing. According to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine, many doctors and medical professionals in the US have been slow in converting to electronic health records. As far as conversion to electronic health records goes, the US lags behind many other nations. This is a fact that is rather surprising, considering they are among the most technologically advanced countries in the world.
The study, which included a national survey of 2758 physicians, found that 4% of respondents used a comprehensive electronic records system and 13% used a basic system. Of those who made use of electronic health records, the majority are young and likely to work in large practices, hospitals or health centres. The majority of physicians who don’t make use of electronic records are more likely to be from older generations with small practices.
Reasons for not converting to electronic records included the difficulty in finding an appropriate system and the rather irrational fear of a chosen system becoming obsolete. Another possible reason, which wasn’t cited, is perhaps the fear that data could be lost, leaked or contaminated. But with the sophisticated protection and data recovery systems available today, that seems a poor excuse.
Physicians in the survey who made use of electronic records reported that the benefits far out-weighed the potential risks; many of which could easily be avoided with proper care and monitoring. Electronic health records have been instrumental in detecting and preventing drug allergies, as well as potentially dangerous drug combinations. They also alert doctors when lab results are available, which dramatically reduces the time spent chasing down results. As soon as doctors know that results have come through, they can implement plans of action timeously and prevent a great deal of pain and suffering.
One positive element that can be taken from the study is that the number of physicians making use of electronic health records is up at least 4% since a similar survey was undertaken in 2006. The progress may be slow, but at least it’s steady.
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