The Personal Side of Health Information Technology

May 19, 2009
2:32 pm

I’m very happy for my friend Billy Tauzin, the chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association (PhRMA).  He has declared himself in good health after his 2004 surgery for intestinal cancer and subsequent internal bleeding problems from scar tissue.

I raise Billy’s good news because he reminds us that the national discussion about health information technology, which often stays mired in complex interchanges on regulations, technology and information-sharing standards, is really all about how patients’ lives will be bettered through the use of electronic medical records.

In an interview, Billy talked about the treatment delays and repeated procedures he endured because his different doctors and specialists didn’t have access to a universal set of electronic health records.  He said, “In some cases, I was almost in shock.  I couldn’t stand up or sit down, I was so short of blood.  We had to go through all of that every time, over and over again, when a simple digital record that I could have controlled and made available to those doctors and nurses in the emergency room might have gotten me help a lot sooner.”

I have my own firsthand experience with this issue.  When I was assisting with the coordination of my father’s medical care, he was receiving dialysis for acute kidney failure at the same time he was getting radiation treatment for prostate cancer.  At one point, his oncologist prescribed a medication at the same time he was getting a similar drug from the dialysis center.  An electronic health record would have immediately prevented any conflicting or unnecessary prescriptions.

In fact, my father’s care would have been much more efficient and effective if his oncologist, nephrologist, internist, cardiologist, nutritionist, radiation center and dialysis center could have had access to the same records and known, in real time, what each professional was doing and prescribing.

In the health reform debate, we talk a great deal about the dollars that can be saved and the efficiencies gained through the use of health information technology.   As these stories remind us, digital medical records can also make a profound difference in the healthcare experience for patients.

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