Your Medical Record: Technology is the Prescription


Two weeks ago, my mother-in-law had surgery on her wrist. Last night she was in some pain, so my sister-in-law called the doctor and he phoned in a perscription. They picked it up, got it home, and went to use it only to discover that it contained Ibuprofen. My mother-in-law is allergic to Ibuprofen.

This sort of thing must be very common. The Center for Drug Safety reports 2.1 million cases of adverse drug interactions each year with 100,000 deaths. Other sources report similar numbers. Many of these could be prevented by a simple technique that has nothing to do with medicine and everything to do with IT: unique records.

Its perfectly plausible that one's medical record could be kept in a single location and accessed and updated via the Internet by each doctor, hospital, emergency room, EMT, and pharmacy you use. Provisions of HIPPA even makes keeping such a record up to date relatively automatic--providing common codes for different procedures and standardized ways of processing payments. Its frustrating to me to see a technically sound solution to a problem that could save many lives and untold suffering and not see it implemented.

What would it take to make this a reality? I think a large insurer like Blue Cross could make it happen now, if they were of a mind to. They already get your information and could store it. They could make using the online medical record by the doctor a condition of payment or give some other incentive. Why don't they? I don't know. I think it probably has something to do with controversy over who owns and controls the data in the medical record: you, the insurer, or the doctor? (HIPPA says the patient does, I believe) There's probably also some concern for liability. But I'm just guessing. Anyone else care to hazard any guesses?