Electronic Medical Records: the Pros and Cons

The HWN Team | Mar 1, 2009

So, if EMRs facilitate the delivery of health care why is it taking so long for the medical community to embrace EMRs?

Electronic Medical Records: the Pros and Cons

In this digital age, more and more bulks of information which used to be paper-based, from library catalogues to telephone books, are digitized and stored in a central location for easy access.

An electronic medical record (EMR) or an electronic health record (EHR) is nothing but a medical record of a patient in digital form. The digital information is usually stored in a database and is accessible from everywhere via a network and EMRs contain mainstream data normally found on a patient's medical records, e.g. blood type, blood tests, inoculations, and X-ray films. And recently, the integration of patient-specific genomic information has also been proposed.

However, even after 40 years when EMRs were first discussed, there is surprisingly a strong resistance against the use of EMRs and quite frankly it's taking quite a while to catch on in the medical community. Medical information, in most cases, continues to be recorded on paper written in a patient's record at every doctor's office the patient has visited or in the medical chart hanging at the foot of a patient's hospital bed.

So, let us take a look at what EMRs are supposed to do

As expected, the proponents are primarily the vendors themselves, government agencies and most health care providers.

OK, what are the disadvantages of EMRs?

Not surprisingly, privacy rights advocacy groups are the main opponents of EMRs. Here is what they have to say:

The Bottom Line

Without a doubt, we have the technology to make EMRs standardized and efficient. HealthVault and similar online personalized health information accounts are enabling patients to take control of their medical records.

Where do we go from here? The main issues that need to be overcome are data security, protection of privacy and gaining the confidence of patients. It doesn’t seem evident that the use of RFID and similar tagging chips will become acceptable or popular anytime soon.

However, we live in a digital world and we cannot hold back progress indefinitely. With improved technology and data protection tools, let us hope the EMR issue will be resolved soon.

Published March 1, 2009, updated May 21, 2012


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