Recently, I visited my internist for the obligatory six-month check up. In the course of this visit, he reached into my folder and pulled out a paper report of the results from the diagnostic laboratory that had run a battery of blood tests. Then, to help interpret them, he went back into the folder and searched for the report that had been prepared six months earlier. He carefully copied select results from that earlier report onto the present paper so we could see how cholesterol and other factors had changed in the last six months. To see if there were some trends, he went further back into the folder and searched for the results from my blood tests of one year ago. These results, also, were copied onto the current sheet of paper, and we could see that most all indicators were either stable and acceptable or moving in a "good" direction. Nice to know.
At this point, I looked him in the eye and noted that this was a terribly inefficient process. "Why, I asked, don't you have some software to handle your patients' Electronic Medical Records? This would let you call up the current data and the two or three previous sets at the click of a mouse."
"Oh, I do have EMR software," he told me. "In fact, I spent $100,000 to buy it, and it's probably one of the best systems available. But it doesn't do me any good, because computers still can't talk to one another. I need the results of your blood tests in a form that can feed directly into my system. But the labs don't deliver their data in a form that can be read by my computer and integrated into your record. They just send a "picture" of the report as an electronic file that I can store and print. Sometimes, it's worse, and I just get a fax. Then, I need to pay someone to scan that document and store the file in the computer instead of on a shelf full of paper."
Clearly, we have a long way to go in achieving a National Health Information Network that really delivers on its promise. NEMA and the members of its Medical Imaging and Technology Alliance are working on many fronts to help bring this dream to reality. Fortunately, we do not need to convince either the president or his administration about the importance of this task.