In the Federal Times last week there was an article on Your health records online. The government is mandating interoperable medical records by 2014 to try and avoid potentially life-threatening medical errors, such as prescribing drugs that counteract other medicines a patient takes or that a patient may be allergic to and to reduce costs by eliminating errors, duplicative tests and needless hospital admissions.
So will an interoperable medical record do these things. Nope, not on its own.
This is one of those classic cases of mistaking a building block for a solution. It's like saying that a 360 degree view of a customer will result in better customer treatment. It might, it can certainly help but it is not going to deliver any benefit unless it can be used to improve decisions!
Let's take the example used in the article. You are being checked in to a hospital in an emergency and can't answer questions. You have a long, complicated medical history. Having that available would let a doctor identify that you should not be given medicine A but should get medicine B instead. But this is an emergency and the doctor needs to decide quickly. Are they going to scan through your records just in case while you lie there dying? Perhaps, if there are common problems with medicine A. But what if medicine A is fine for almost everyone?
But what if the system they use to prescribe something for you could check the record? Now even the most obscure conflict could be identified. This means using the information to improve the decision being taken - decision management built on a strong data foundation.
What about non-emergency situations. Well even there the doctors I meet are busy and in a hurry so scanning a record is not an option. They either need to be given suggestions based on the record or have their decisions checked against it effectively. Decisioning again.
Don't get me wrong, an integrated medical record can help - it is necessary it is just not sufficient.
For those interested in how to make better healthcare decisions with technology, check out this post on Mark Clare of Parkview Health's approach and a white paper on Using Technology to Seize the Knowledge Management Opportunity in Healthcare by Mark Clare and Mark Pierce at Parkview.