Electronic medical records provide an alternative to paper based records. They are also a source of information that can be used as part of other processes to address a wide range of healthcare issues. Here’s one example:
Congress has passed a bill requiring food processors to implement systems to track cases of food that may be related to outbreaks of food-borne illness.
An estimated 76 million people contract food-borne illnesses in the U.S. each year, with 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Those illnesses cost the U.S. economy $152 billion a year in health care and related expenses. Rapid identification of the source of these illnesses and their removal from the market is critical.
Under the required tracking system, farmers would scan individual cases of produce, keeping records of where they are shipped. If a recall is ordered by the FDA, the records would be quickly disseminated to trace the current location of the recalled produce.
Once specific cases have been identified as carrying a food-borne illness, the new system will allow those cases to be removed from the market; however this is only part of a complete system. How can the illness be linked to specific cases of food? Here’s where an EMR system can help.
Most EMR systems provide for reporting of food-borne illnesses. By adding a few additional elements of information, the search for the source can be narrowed very quickly. When a doctor enters a diagnosis of food-borne illness, the system can ask for the type of food that is suspect, i.e., eggs, fish, spinach, etc., and the name of the market where the suspected food was purchased. The EMR can track doctors’ reports and when a target number of similar reports is reached an analysis can be launched. A single answer will not be helpful, but if the answers from several cases list the same food and the same market or chain, that provides a place to start. Appropriate information can be forwarded to a public agency.
Samples can be acquired, tests run, and the investigation focused on just a few likely sources. Once a case of food carrying an illness is found, the food processors’ system can be used to find all of the cases from a specific producer and they can be remove from the market.
There is one other piece to the complete solution and that is rapid access to a large enough number of records to find what may be an isolated set of incidents. There are a number of organizations including the VA, Kaiser, and vendors of hospital systems that have large databases and could report to public health agencies or the FDA. There are also physician office systems like Practice Fusion that are database driven and can quickly draw information from more than five million patient records today.
The tracking process from identification of a problem to a solution would look like this:
This provides an illustration of the way an EMR can also be linked to other tracking systems to identify and facilitate the search for health issues such as some common types of sports injuries or automobile accident injuries. EMRs are clearly more than just systems to replace doctors’ paper records.
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