Electronic Medical Records—Hype

Electronic medical records are all the rage, and at least one of the health insurers that offer them is grossly overselling, potentially leading its patients to rely on them to their detriment.

Electronic medical records are all the rage these days. Unfortunately, some organizations that are working on implementing them don’t have the patience to call them “Alpha” or “Beta” for the time (probably years) that it will take until they work well. Instead, they are hyping these as panaceas.

One example is my insurer, State of Washington Uniform Medical Plan. The personal-health-record (PHR) system that it has bought merits no more than an “Alpha” designation, but UMP is shamelessly advertising it as a complete portable repository for all there is to know about the patient’s health and health care.

Here is my gripe sent to UMP today. UMP tends to respond promptly, so its reply should appear here soon.

You say “MyActiveHealth lets you keep track of all of your doctor visits, health screenings, and prescription drug history. The information is updated automatically every time you receive services covered by UMP.”

This appears to be false. I have had medical care in 2010 with claims paid by UMP omitted from my personal health record.

Moreover, the information that appears in the PHR is often useless to another provider. An example is “OTHER ABNORMAL CLINICAL FINDING”. Other examples are tests, which are reported as having been performed but whose results are not reported.

You say that the PHR “Makes it easy to share information with your doctors.” This appears to be false. In fact, the PHR makes in difficult, because the patient must combine the very incomplete information in the PHR with information from other sources.

Adding information to the PHR oneself does not solve the problem, because the PHR’s printed output omits crucial information added by the patient. For example, hospital visits added by the patient include diagnoses, but the diagnoses are omitted from the printout.

I conclude that the PHR offered by UMP is grossly deficient in comparison with the claims that UMP makes for it. A patient relying on your statements could print a PHR report or grant access to a provider and simply assume that all pertinent information about UMP-covered treatments is being communicated. The results of this false assumption could be catastrophic.

Will you clearly and prominently tell your customers about the limitations of the PHR and warn them not to consider it a source of complete information about UMP-covered test results and treatments?

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