Just how bad are medical records?

No politician has led on this issue. All we have gotten from anyone is rhetoric.

ICANotes infographicA story this weekend from the Associated Press says doctors who examined their own medical records found them rife with errors. (Illustration from ICANotes, a mental health medical records company.)

The article offers just two paragraphs concerning automation:

A possible fix is to go paperless. But electronic medical records are expensive and sometimes different systems don't talk to one another. Only about 10 percent of doctors nationwide use some sort of electronic system.

While electronic records can cut down on medication and transcription errors, it's not a panacea.

There is, of course, a lot more to say than that.

There are valid objections to automating records. Not all test formats are supported. Standards don't exist. Systems for collecting records don't give proper prompts. All HIPAA problems become chronic once records are automated.

But the lack of automation is also costing the system billions of dollars per year, and is probably costing hundreds of people their lives as well.

Politicians all seem agree on the need for automation, but no one has put forward a medical advisor who can start working on the process, ironing out differences among vendors, etc.

No politician has led on this issue. All we have gotten from anyone is rhetoric.

Vendors have behaved in the exact same way. Proprietary formats, lack of interoperability, and a disconnect between who pays (doctors) and who benefits (insurers) continue to make doing nothing seem like a very good idea.

Having covered this topic for several months now, it's clear the logjam will not be broken this year, next year, or possibly even the year after.

Automation, it seems, awaits the outcome of health care reform discussions that won't even start until a new President is inaugurated. Solutions won't emerge until after the underlying course is set, and the technical questions concerning automation seem irrelevant to that discussion.

So we wait.

Don't get sick.