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Patient-Driven EHRs: The New, Smart Choice
By Martin H. Orens MD, FACEP

As an emergency department physician, I have treated thousands of patients in critical situations. In such stressful moments, family members want to focus exclusively on the patient and see him or her obtain prompt and proper care that will result in a speedy recovery.

Yet family members are forced to deal with the added stress of detailing the patient’s medical history for attending healthcare providers like myself. They often struggle to paint a comprehensive picture of prior illnesses and medical procedures as well as cite any known adverse medication reactions that could potentially affect current treatment—all while they are understandably preoccupied with thoughts of their sick loved one.

It’s a scenario I have seen time and again—one that, fortunately, will soon be less common thanks to the development of patient-driven EHRs. This personalized EHR makes the information the property of the patient so that it can follow wherever he or she goes.

Easy Access to All Stored Medical Information
Patient-driven EHRs have the chance to revolutionize the way medical information is stored and shared—unlike many current records available. A doctor’s proprietary system allows information to be shared only among his or her office and a specific hospital and not with other doctors and hospitals.

On the other hand, a digitized personal medical record is a continuously evolving chronicle of a patient’s medical history, with contributions from all his or her healthcare providers—efficiently compiling a patient’s personal health information into a single source that is accessible anytime, anywhere in the world.

What does this mean for a patient in an emergency medical situation? If he or she has an EHR, doctors can learn virtually everything about that patient’s medical history in a matter of minutes. With every healthcare provider contributing life-saving information to a patient’s personal EHR online, the best treatment can be given while avoiding potential mistakes.

Every Family Member Benefits From EHRs
All patients can benefit from personal EMRs. Every member of a family, including children, parents, and particularly grandparents with chronic medical conditions, can experience a sense of both empowerment and freedom by having all their medical information digitized. So long as there is access to a computer, they can quickly obtain their own personal medical records—even in countries where they don’t speak the language—and authorize doctors to access them as needed.

A personal EHR further benefits patients of all ages by preventing costly and unnecessary tests and procedures because all prior tests and procedures will be indicated in the record and therefore are unlikely to be repeated. Similarly, this type of EHR can reduce the risk of dangerous medical mistakes, such as prescription errors, because all prescription medications and allergies will be detailed in the record.

EHRs Empower the Patient and the Physician
These benefits are especially relevant when a patient is faced with an unexpected medical emergency, but the true value of personal EHRs is not limited to emergency situations. EHRs provide patients with easy and continuous access to their medical histories, so individuals can be more informed about the details of their own health and better equipped to make healthcare decisions in the future, whether in emergency situations or not. Furthermore, some EHRs facilitate networking among all of a patient’s healthcare providers, so physicians can communicate and coordinate the proper treatment at any given time.

Standards Matter
There are several organizations that offer EHR systems. When choosing a company to create and maintain your family’s personal EHRs, look for one that offers complete privacy and security in addition to convenience and accessibility. All HIPAA compliances and Health and Human Services requirements should be held to the highest standards, and the EHR system should use an encrypted database. Your EHR should contain your complete personal health history, doctor’s actual dictations, laboratory reports, and procedure results. The system should be set up in such a way that only select individuals will be able to access your EHR using a password you have provided them.

Peace of Mind
We live in a digital age—one in which many families manage everything from their finances to their social lives using computers. So it makes sense to keep EHRs online. Whether you have children or older parents, travel a lot or stay close to home, EHRs are a smart choice for every member of the family. They can provide peace of mind in everyday life as well as in those emergency situations we can’t foresee, when the ones we love most may benefit immeasurably from a few saved minutes and the presence of valuable information.

Martin H. Orens, MD, FACEP,is president and founder of KARE Information Services Electronic Health Records and a board-certified emergency department physician.