EDITORIAL: Medical records should be easily accessible - December 15, 2013

Courtesy of the Times

The point of requiring electronic medical records is to make patient information easily accessible. But in Northwest Indiana, that hasn’t happened yet.

More than eight years ago, the Northwest Indiana Health Information Exchange was pitched to hospitals, physician groups, medical organizations and chronic care centers.

Already, by 2005, a database like this had been set up in the South Bend area.

Since then, the federal government began requiring hospitals, physicians and others to switch to electronic medical records. The aim is to have all health care providers be able to access a patient’s records.

Sharing data seamlessly could save lives at the emergency room and elsewhere.

But in Northwest Indiana, that dream hasn’t come true yet.

“Currently, we can only share information electronically between Epic (Epic Systems software) hospitals if a patient consents and the request is made by the physician,” said Matt Doyle, chief financial officer at Methodist Hospitals. “A patient can also request a copy of their medical record chart from our medical records department if they sign a release.”

Patient permission is, of course, necessary to avoid concerns about patient privacy.

But while a framework like the Indiana Health Information Exchange is intended to act as a broker between pharmacies, physicians, therapists, hospitals and others, not all hospitals are participating. That means patients aren’t getting the protection and convenience they need.

All health care professionals should have ready access to the patients’ medical information to watch for drug interactions, other medical conditions and the like.

Now that the record-keeping software has been mastered, it’s time to take the next step toward being able to share the records faster.

Patients need to have their information readily accessible elsewhere, not just within a particular hospital system.

That’s how the quality of care can be ensured, whether at an emergency room, doctor’s office, pharmacist, therapist or anywhere else.