Sunday, June 28, 2009

Mary Pitt: "Digitized medical records will save lives"

Many Americans are up in arms about a possible threat to "privacy" if the Obama plan to digitize medical records, making them available on secured sites and accessible by physicians and hospitals, should be implemented. Looking at the situation more deeply would lead one to believe that the reverse may be true and we could lose something more important than our privacy if it is not.

First, one must admit that when your life is at stake, the last concern you have is whether your body or its internal workings are exposed to any or all of the people who are fighting to save you. Secondly, if there are any known facts about your medical history or idiopathic propensities, you certainly want the people who hold your life in their hands to know it. Have you ever reacted adversely to any medication? Are you, perhaps, allergic to any mixture or compound that may contain the offending substance? May your life be in danger if someone in an emergency situation and following "customary medical practices" should introduce a sizable dosage of that medication into your system?

You may carefully carry a list of any allergies or medications that you cannot use in your purse or on your person. Now, ask any emergency medical worker or paramedic how much time they can take searching through your purse, wallet, or glove compartment for documents with medical information. Ask the personnel in an emergency room whether, in a live-threatening emergency, they can wait until you're conscious to question you about allergies. I have nearly lost my life to anaphylactic shock as the result of a penicillin reaction and one more administration of the drug could quickly end my existence. However, I realize that if I am found unconscious and must be transported to an emergency room for treatment of some infection, I cannot be sure that the very drug that is deadly for me could be injected into my body?

In addition, I carry in my wallet the brand and serial number of the pacemaker that is implanted in my chest to stimulate and regulate my heartbeat. If a physician who has never seen me before feels it essential to have an MRI scan to determine the specifics of a serious injury, will he even know it's there or will the small lump near my collarbone even be noticed? If not, and if the doctor feels that the procedure is necessary, it could be ordered and would lead to my immediate death. The presence of this instrument is certainly something that I would want any physician treating me to know at once as would the presence of any metallic object such as a reinforcement to mend a damaged bone.

Each of us may have a personal doctor who has an exhaustive medical history in his file and he would never make such a fatal mistake in caring for us. However, if we have an auto accident or collapse on the street and must be taken by ambulance to the "nearest medical facility", where are those records? Of course, they are securely locked in the files in the office of our primary care physician who has no idea that we are in dire straits and, since we are unconscious and alone, who is going to tell anyone?

We must also consider that many do not have a primary care physician but can only seek occasional medical care in any emergency room. There is absolutely no coordination of care, ever. Each time they appear, some doctor who has never seen them before must treat them as best he can on the assumption that people are all alike and their goal is simply to alleviate the immediate problem and to get the patient onto his feet and out the door. How many do you suppose have died as the result of not having available records of having been treated anywhere, for anything, before when a medical history could have made a life-or-death difference in their treatment?

In addition, there should also be some overall savings when considering the cost of repeating tests that may have been done recently by another physician. If the results of a recent test disclosing the information needed by a diagnosing doctor is available at a touch, that doctor can give more prompt and effective treatment. Also, he could avoid following false diagnostic trails only to find that the answers he seeks are either something for which you are already receiving treatment or naturally occurring events in your body. Human beings are not like automobiles but require individualized treatment. Otherwise, doctors would be called "mechanics" instead of being said to "practice" medicine, so the variations in each human body are extremely important.

Personally, I would prefer that my medical identification number be available right alongside my other identification so that one trip to the computer would allow any medical facility or physician immediate access to my medical history, in full, and thus be better equipped to provide the needed care while also "doing no harm" which could lead to my unnecessary demise.

In such a serious situation, I would gladly sacrifice my privacy in the cause of insuring that any medical personnel who may become responsible for my life and well-being will have all the information they need in order to be successful. Viewed in that light, doesn't the whole idea seem a bit more reasonable? Your life may depend on it..

The author is a very "with-it" old lady who aspires to bring a bit of truth, justice, and common sense to a nation that has lost touch with its humanity in the search for "societal perfection".

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