Electronic Health Records Could Be Norm in Ten Years

The man in charge of building a national network that can easily and securely share electronic medical records says the effort is now well on its way to becoming reality. The network, commissioned by President Bush in 2004, will establish a uniform architecture for storing and sharing health records. Jack Williams reports.

Named as the national coordinator for Health Information Technology in 2007, Dr. Robert Kolodner has his hands full. Despite the electronic and internet age, most doctors and hospitals still deal with paper medical records.

"If we do a survey where we use a meaningful definition of electronic health records, some very basic functions, right now only 14-percent of doctors across the country have electronic health records that meet even this minimum level of function. That's just something we just have to improve. Even hospitals, where they often are seen as having more capital to buy these things, are at 11-percent."

Instead of trying to track down paper records from different health care providers, with an electronic exchange, a person's health records would move from doctor to doctor with them. Kolodner says he's on schedule to meet a 2014 deadline.

"We have made more progress in the last 3-4 years than we did in the last 10-20 years, we've been working on this for that long and there's been tremendous strides forward. We still have quite a ways to go, but I do believe that we will meet the 2014 target. Ten years from now I think we will be using these probably universally."

Kolodner says an electronic system could cut down on errors and improve both care and efficiency. He says concerns about privacy and security are understandable and doesn't expect everyone to adapt all at once.

"The way that we're going to make progress isn't by having everybody buy in at once, but it's by getting a sufficient number and breadth of individuals and organizations to begin working together to begin using it and showing that by using it, we're able to accomplish the kinds of things that everybody would like to, so that the others who rightfully should be somewhat skeptical can then join us as we go forward."

Dr. Kim Dunn is a practicing internist and is involved in testing how electronic medical records could improve clinical care here in Houston. She says one of the problems is medical students aren't taught how to use electronic records.

"In medical school, you're not trained with it. Residency, you're not trained with it. The key technology is the paper. That's what you're trained in using. So you've got a training issue. Doctors haven't been trained in e-mail and haven't been trained extensively in telemedicine and so until that actually becomes a part of the fabric and culture of clinical care, we're not going to get there."

She says improved care and electronic dialogue between a doctor and patient should be the ultimate goal of the network. You can find out more about the nationwide health information network through a link on our website, KUHF.org

Bio photo of Jack Williams

Jack Williams

Director of News Programming

News Director Jack Williams has been with Houston Public Radio since August of 2000. He's also a reporter and anchor for Houston Public Radio's local All Things Considered segments...