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Who loses the EMR adoption race???

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Who loses the EMR adoption raceOnly one in five, or 20 per cent, of American doctors uses electronic medical records, the New England Journal of Medical reported this month, and less than nine per cent of practices with three or fewer doctors use them. In Canada, according to the 2007 National Physician Survey, fewer than 10 per cent of doctors have switched entirely from paper to electronic records, though about a quarter use some combination of the two. The Conference Board of Canada last year released a survey of a dozen countries that confirmed information technology in Canada's health-care sector is in critical condition. In Australia, 79 per cent of doctors use electronic records. In the U.K., it's 89 per cent, and in New Zealand, 92 per cent.

Seems like Canada is in a tight race with the United States for an unwanted title: slowest adopter of electronic medical records in the developed world. The stubborn attachment to old fashioned filing cabinets is unfortunate. Digitizing medical records reduces medical errors, improves preventative care and saves administration costs, and Canada is so far behind most other countries in this area that it's embarrassing.

Making the switch isn't easy. Doctors have to upgrade computers, purchase new software, train staff and pay for technical support. Health care professionals are overworked as it is; it's no surprise they are reluctant to undertake the costly and laborious process of going digital. As well, some privacy advocates, who at the best of times are suspicious of new technology, worry that patients' health information would be less secure if stored electronically.

The benefits to patients and workers, however, are too great to ignore. In this sense, the situation is analogous to that facing other industries, which deal not with patients but with customers. Electronic records can automatically generate warnings about dangerous drug interactions and allergies, which doctors sometimes miss and that account for some of the "adverse events" that make hospitals dangerous places for patients. Digital records can store a greater amount of data, allowing for the inclusion of such things as care guidelines tailored to each patient's age, demographic and medical history. Adapting to technologies requires an outlay of money and resources, but without these investments it will be impossible to remain productive.

In a single-payer health care system like Canada's, perhaps the greatest benefit of going digital would be connectivity. Family practices, hospitals, clinics and pharmacies could all be linked by a common network. Countries that have implemented such a system have reported a drop in duplicate lab tests, prescription errors and administration costs. In Denmark, family doctors who switched to electronic records save nearly an hour a day because they no longer have to phone hospitals for clarification on patients' conditions.

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 02 July 2008 20:50 )  

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