The Medical Records Struggle

eHealth Technologies Blog: Ken Rosenfeld, co-founder, eHealth Technologies

It is worth your time, after you read this blog, to check out this story – “A first person view of today’s medical records system. It’s not pretty,” from Valerie Silverthorne, Senior News & Feature Writer, TechTarget. It is a quick read detailing Valerie’s exasperating experience retrieving her husband’s medical records prior to an appointment with a cardiologist.

How often do you think this type of situation occurs? You would be right in thinking this is all too common. The challenges that Valerie encountered are even more common when a patient requires specialty care, such as care provided by a cardiologist, oncologist, or transplant surgeon. To put this in further perspective, our company alone provides services that support a quarter of a million patients every year to ensure the complete healthcare record is delivered to their hospital, before their appointment with a specialist. The CDC National Center for Health Statistics reports there are over 125 million hospital outpatient visits per year.

Unfortunately, this work is hard and takes a lot of effort. We get millions of faxes that we have to make sense of in order to obtain the full medical record, just as Valerie had to do on her own. We desperately want to see the day where the stress test that Valerie needed for her husband would be available through an interoperable network. However, just last week we heard from a physician at one of our largest customers, a nationally-known healthcare provider, that even when access is good between provider systems (in this case, even between systems from the same Electronic Medical Record (EMR) vendor), there are still critical elements, such as pathology reports, that are missing.

The healthcare industry is continuing to push for more interoperable access, but in the meantime, there is a significant need to relieve the burdens that Valerie encountered to access the full, relevant medical record for her husband’s care providers. Hospitals, in an effort to provide faster and higher quality care, need to continue to focus on ways to make this process more effective for their patients. Some institutions are hiring nurse navigators that help patients through the new patient intake process which streamlines this significantly. It also means taking the extra effort to address interoperability gaps to ensure all clinical information is made available, and not burden patients with record retrieval at a time that is already stressful. This may include engaging with services that help speed up the process of accessing information and ensuring relevant information is delivered to the clinician in usable formats directly within their EMR.

Valerie is a well-informed, active advocate for her husband and was able to surmount significant barriers to get the clinical information that was needed for his care. Unfortunately, for complex patients with significant illnesses, having this wherewithal is the exception. There is a clear need – for the benefit of clinicians and patients alike – to make this process better NOW, to reduce the frustrating experiences like Valerie’s that happen far too often every day.