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Health Information Technology: the future of medicine

Community Eye Health

With so much information being stored on the web today, it may come as a surprise that medical records have only recently begun the conversion into a digital format known as HIT, or Health Information Technology.  Like any big change, using electronic medical records poses many potential benefits and risks.

This week on “Take Care,” David Whitlinger discusses the factors involved in the switch from paper-based medical records to electronic medical records.  Whitlinger is executive director of the New York eHealth Collaborative and former director of healthcare device standards and interoperability for the Intel Corporation’s digital health group.

According to Whitlinger, medicine is the last major industry to convert to an electronic system. 

“It’s very refreshing all of the capabilities and all of the new innovations that can occur through this transformation,” Whitlinger says.

The change is in large part due to the Affordable Care Act, which gave billions of dollars to healthcare providers to implement digital technologies into their file systems.

“This [the Affordable Care Act’s funding] has done a massive transformation over the course of the last three years,” Whitlinger says.

The Affordable Care Act also created the Meaningful Use Program, which reimburses medical practices for properly using electronic medical records.

Whitlinger says 60 percent of the medical practices in New York are now using electronic records, and the numbers are growing throughout the country.

“It’s expected that most physicians will have electronic health records as the principal practice of storage of the information within two to three years.”

Concerns regarding thecost, usability, and safety and security of electronic medical records are common among those questioning the change, but “a lot of that has been dealt with,” says Whitlinger.

Computer thieves may be able to gain some financial assets from stealing health information, but not as much as they would with other types of data.

“It’s not quite the same direct financial benefit as stealing financial information.”

Whitlinger also says that the electronic security systems being used by the health community are modeled after those used by financial institutions and have strong data protection.

Despite the negative aspects of electronic medical records, Whitlinger says there are many ways in which digital tools are useful. 

Not only do they give doctors easy access to tests and information generated and stored by other doctors, but they also provide doctors with software programs that help them make better diagnoses and decisions by sifting through vast amounts of medical data.

The development of the patient portal also gives patients the ability to view their own medical records, although the tool still needs to be improved. 

It is hard to predict what doctors’ offices will look like in the future, but it is unlikely that you will see stacks of files like you have in the past.  Whitlinger believes that there is much more to be discovered in the field of medicine with the help of digital technology.

“We’re largely at the tip of the iceberg.”