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The Cleveland Clinic with the help of Internet giant Google, Inc. is venturing into the online health information world. If the venture succeeds, in the not-too-distant future physicians everywhere especially in the ED will be able to access their patients’ medical files simply by logging onto the Web.
It’s an innovation whose time has come, say some emergency physicians who are applauding the Cleveland Clinic-Google venture and others like it.

“This is the next step, the next phase in how we are going to manage medical information,” says tech expert Todd Taylor, MD, a Phoenix-area emergency physician, who was recently hired by Microsoft, Inc. to help market its own EMR product.

For years, EPs have wrestled with the need for timely, accurate, and easily accessible patient data. While advances have been made in creating a dependable electronic medical record, physicians have complained in the past that nothing so far has proven either practical or dependable.

Sending patient data over the Internet offers the best prospect yet that the information will be timely and reliable, says Robert Blankenship, MD., an information technology expert in the ED at Madigan Army Medical Center in Fort Lewis, WA.

 “It gives physicians accurate data when it’s needed most, that is, within seconds or minutes not hours, and that’s a huge advantage,” Blankenship says. And when the information arrives it will be comprehensive. It will come from a variety of different treatment settings and cover a large span of time all on the same patient.

Another plus, Blankenship notes, lies in the cost savings. “Whenever you don’t have to rerun a lab test or waste time waiting for the conventional (paper) record, that’s a cost savings,” Blankenship notes.

Late last year, Cleveland Clinic began enabling 120,000 of its patients to connect to their personal records in a trial run of its new system. The access allows them to make their own doctors’ appointments, renew prescriptions, check lab results, research their health coverage, and access their medical histories from anywhere in the world over the Internet.

But critics have raised questions about security. While privacy concerns may be genuine, fears about information theft and similar problems are generally unfounded, says Taylor, who works for Microsoft.
These companies are extremely large and sophisticated enough to ensure that the data is safe, he says. “No one raises the same doubts about bank financial data. Eventually people will feel the same way about their medical data.”

Microsoft is developing HealthVault, an operating system that will enable providers and users essentially to create and customize their own medical records. America Online and several smaller Web-based companies are developing EMR projects as well.
 
 

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