As technologically advanced as we are in the U.S., we are still in the horse-and-buggy age when it comes to our medical records. A person’s records are usually dispersed among a number of healthcare providers, including primary care physicians, specialists, hospitals, emergency rooms, labs, pharmacies and therapists.
This system is inefficiently fragmented and also dangerous for the patient. Just think: If you had to go to a hospital that doesn’t have your medical records, the doctors are starting with a new patient without any history except the verbal history that he can provide. Time could be of the essence, yet time is what is needed to get the crucial records to the hospital.
One Web Site
Imagine that absolutely all of your medical records, including your prescriptions, are on one specific Web site that can be accessed in an emergency. This site would have your X-rays, lab tests, physical exams, medications and other critical healthcare data available instantly.
Doctors and other healthcare professionals — with permission — could instantly access that site and, where appropriate, update it with your latest tests, exams, prescriptions or other medical data. You could travel anywhere in the world, yet your complete medical history would be available to you or your caregivers as needed.
We currently have the technology to do this. In fact, Google has joined with the famous Cleveland Clinic in what seems to be a pilot program to store medical records.
Just think about it — a complete medical history on one site could also contain warnings about medications, allergies or certain treatments or protocols that could be harmful or even deadly to you.
Often we read about how many prescription errors occur in hospitals — errors that could be avoided with the proper technology. Countless people have lost their lives because doctors and pharmacists either didn’t have the proper information, or didn’t communicate that information properly. Such occurrences can be avoided by having all of your records on one location, which is easily accessible and always current.
Operating the Site
First of all, you the patient would obviously have the password to your site and would permit other medical providers and interested parties to have access to that site. That access could be short-term or long-term, depending on your wishes and the needs of the person to whom you’ve granted access.
You could give short-term passes that, for example, would only permit access to one single view of your medical records. Also, you could grant access to only certain parts of your records — for example, your prescriptions.
You the patient could input some of your own medical information such as your blood pressure, blood sugar readings and even weight. Additionally, you could input certain medical episodes that are significant to a healthcare provider such as angina attacks, fainting spells, or occurrences of certain stomach problems.
The bottom line to all of this is that virtually all of your records can be stored on one Web site and only you and those to whom you grant specific permission would have access to that site. Your information is portable in that it will follow you anywhere in the world. You or a medical professional merely have to have Internet access.
Medical Alert Bracelets
These devices are used by people who are concerned that if somehow they were rendered unconscious, medical personal would have at least some insight into a life-threatening condition that could have caused the loss of consciousness or be exacerbated by certain medications or certain treatments.
With your medical files on the Internet, the medical bracelet as we now know it would become obsolete. It could still be used, however, by having the Web site URL (uniform resource locator) wherein all of your records are kept imprinted on that bracelet, along with a temporary password to that Web site. Therefore, if you are unfortunately disabled, medical personnel could immediately get at all of your critical records.
We are already extensively using technology that permits files to be shared and updated by authorized people from any place in the world.
For example, tens of thousands of our tax returns are prepared abroad — usually in India — by technicians who are inputting into tax preparation programs data received from your American certified public accountant. The finished returns are then uploaded and sent to your accountant for review.
Also, many medical tests are analyzed abroad — usually in India — and the results are sent to your American doctors from doctors in other parts of the world who will work for less money than an American doctor. This is especially common with X-ray reports where Indian radiologists read a report while your doctor is sleeping, then sends the report to him so he can read it upon arrival at the office.
Infrastructure Is Ready
In my opinion, we have the requisite infrastructure that will permit you to have all of your medical records in one safe and secure online environment. There are two major challenges. First, hosting companies will need the sophisticated software that will permit the construction of user-friendly Web sites. Secondly, enlisting medical personnel to input medical data in a usable form will be a bit of an educational process.
However, when we all see how much sense this makes and how many lives and how much money is saved through online medical recordkeeping, I have no doubt that medical people will jump on board this new and exciting wave.
Theodore F. di Stefano is a founder and managing partner at Capital Source Partners, which provides a wide range of investment banking services to the small and medium-sized business. He is also a frequent speaker to business groups on financial and corporate governance matters. He can be contacted at Ted@capitalsourcepartners.com.