America is dying: A broken record

We pride ourselves on having the latest and greatest. We revere the robotic surgeons, the state-of-the-art medical devices and the high-tech operating rooms. The speed of innovation in modern society makes it difficult to keep up. We are very much so existing amidst a digital revolution. But, here’s the thing: More advanced technology does not necessarily mean better medical outcomes. Take electronic medical records (EMR), for example. About a decade ago, President Obama was an ardent supporter of digitizing medical records, and the American government has since doled out $36 billion to speed up the process.

A recent report on “Botched Operation” from Kaiser Health News and Fortune magazine reveals the futilities of EMR. You would think that EMR would positively contribute to the enormous, confusing labyrinth of patient records. After all, an interconnected digital system that stores a life’s worth of information should be useful for promoting continuity of care between patients and physicians, right? Well, as it turns out, the main beneficiary of this transition has been the $13 billion industry that sells EMR programs.

After years of careful marketing, the industry is booming. In 2008, only 9% of hospitals had EMR. Now, that percentage is 96%. But EMR have been responsible for thousands of injuries, near misses and even deaths. This digitization has caused medical personnel to fumble through hundreds of drop-down lists of medications they’ve never even heard of, spend hours upon hours filling out required fields and lose time they could be spending with patients. Additionally, EMR demand a certain degree of multi-tasking: talking to a patient, asking a question, typing it in the records, stopping for conversation and doing it all over again. Of course, this makes the system prone to human error.

Dr. John Prunskis MD asked his medical staff: “Which was better — their new electronic medical record (EMR) system, or the record-keeping system it replaced?” The answer was unanimous: Not a single person chose EMR. In fact, EMR has actually caused “frustration, stress and burnout” among physicians who spend hours outside of work charting. Ultimately, it might require government intervention to address widespread dissatisfaction with this new system.

That could look like increased government oversight over the EMR, which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is primed to do in the upcoming future. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb recently called for “tighter scrutiny” over EMR, citing that digital records are so new that there are not sufficient regulations for proper monitoring. This reveals another frightening reality of EMR — databases containing years of personal health information are not properly maintained. What does that mean for security and privacy of personal data? That, too, is completely up in the air.

Technology can be wonderful, particularly in the case of medicine, if it facilitates and simplifies the job of healthcare personnel. EMR has proven to do exactly the opposite, and yet hospitals are contractually obligated to continue digitizing despite pushback from the very people entering this digital information.