New technology is being developed and tested to help further medical studies that may eventually be used to combat deadly illnesses and help the disabled. Many of these technological advances offer considerable promise for doctors and patients alike. Technology can be lifesaving when used for medical purposes, just look at the personal medical alert system for seniors as an example of a tool that can save a life. People at risk have access to professional assistance when they are in trouble, no one can deny the significance and life-saving potential of all of these technologies.
In a November 2011 edition of Technology Review magazine, writer David Talbot shed light on the life-saving potential of the Medical Information Exchange System, an information-sharing network developed at Vanderbilt University. The relatively simple system is seen as an efficient, cost-effective method to save lives and improve the overall quality of health care.
The article recounts a story about a woman who came to the emergency room at Saint Francis Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. She was rushed to the hospital with uterine bleeding, a potentially life-threatening condition; and days before her visit to Saint Francis, she had an ultrasound at another hospital that revealed an ectopic pregnancy.
It’s not common for medical care centers with different owners to share patient information, and Memphis’ exchange system is relatively rare. But the ability to share medical information between hospitals gives medical professionals the ability to save time and money by skipping tests or other procedures. Without access to this information through the city’s digital information-sharing program, doctors wouldn’t have had this knowledge at hand. Because of Memphis’ program, the woman’s medical care team rushed her to surgery and saved her life.
Vanderbilt University biomedical informatics professor, Mark Frisse, published the results of his study in a November 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Informatics Association. The main purpose of the study was to show colleagues and the medical industry, the results of electronic patient data sharing among 12 Memphis area hospital emergency rooms.
Hospitals that participated in the study saved an astonishing $2 million over 13 months, simply by avoiding unnecessary CTs, tests and admissions after doctors accessed vital information in patients’ medical histories. In hospitals that don’t have the technology, doctors may over-test or over-treat patients, largely because they need to rule out possible causes for problems or conditions. Vanderbilt’s study compared the results of emergency room treatment in two groups of patients: one group for whom doctors obtained electronic records of patients’ medical histories, and the second group, which consisted of patients with similar complaints or conditions, but for whom no medical information was available.
The study focused on lap tests, head and body CT scans, ankle and chest x-rays, echocardiograms, and chest radiographs. Doctors only used the information from the health exchange when they deemed it necessary. It was checked for seven out of every 100 patients, but no less than 20,000 times throughout the entire study. Patients have the right to refuse to allow the sharing of their records.
But while some patients might not be eager to have their medical histories stored in a cloud environment, other countries who’ve embraced sharing medical records have seen success. For the United States, this would be a monumental change, and it could be a change for the better. According to John Halamka, chief information officer at Harvard Medical School, American health care information management could reside in private clouds, modular systems that might work like online app stores, allowing patients to monitor their health conditions with user-friendly interfaces.
If American hospitals switched to electronic record management, it could mean millions in savings for both hospitals and patients. The long-term goal is to create an electronic infrastructure that could make life easier—and possible—for hospital patients all over the country.