The Tragedy Of Electronic Medical Records

J.K. Wall | | October 23, 2014

...Digitizing medical records was supposed to transform health care—improving the quality of care and the service provided to patients while helping cut out unnecessary costs. Just like IT revolutionized all other industries.  Perhaps they still will. But lately, electronic medical record systems are getting nothing but votes of no-confidence from physicians, hospitals, insurers and IT experts.

Dr. Clem McDonald, who did more than anyone to advance electronic medical records during his 35 years at the Indianapolis-based Regenstrief Institute, called the 5-year, $27 billion push to roll out electronic medical records “disappointing” and even a “tragedy” last month during a talk with health care reporters (including me) at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.  “It’s sort of a tragedy because everybody’s well-intentioned,” said McDonald, who spearheaded one of the nation’s first electronic medical record systems at Regenstrief and what is now Eskenazi Health. McDonald’s work in Indianapolis on the electronic exchange of medical records put patients here at least a decade ahead of those in most of the country in benefiting from the technology.

McDonald now has a nationally influential post to promote electronic medical records, as the director of the Lister Hill Center for Biomedical Communications, a part of the National Library of Medicine, which is one of the National Institutes of Health.  During his talk, McDonald released his latest research survey, which found that electronic medical records “steal” 48 minutes per day in free time from primary care physicians.  McDonald is still optimistic about the technology, which I’ll get to later...