Years ago when I worked as a bedside nurse in a medium sized hospital, well before the advent of Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) and Telehealth; completing admission paperwork was always an interesting event. In addition to ensuring that the patient was stable and comfortably settled in, a nurse had to obtain medical and social history which could pose quite a conundrum at times. Patients might only remember some of their allergies, illnesses or surgeries; or could only tell you they took 2 white pills and a yellow pill (without knowing the names or the dosages). If you were lucky, the patient or family member would have brought in a bag full of medicine bottles so you could get the names, dosages, and frequencies of medication. Some people brought along handwritten notes of their medical history as well as their medication list. As computers gained popularity, we started getting printed lists of histories and medications. As simple as this sounds, at 3am with 6 other patients waiting to be seen; a bag full of medication or a list of any type was a nurse’s dream come true.
As anyone in the health field can attest, an individual’s medical and social history is extremely important to their well-being. In order to determine treatment, it is necessary to know what allergies, illnesses or surgeries someone has had to ensure patient safety, as well as treatment options. Consider a situation where someone is hospitalized and they don’t remember that they are allergic to Penicillin. Along comes a doctor who decides this is the treatment of choice for the illness the patient has. There is the possibility of an adverse event that could have been prevented, had the allergy been disclosed. In another situation, if someone has an implanted device like a pacemaker, this would determine whether or not the patient is able to undergo MRI testing.
With advances in mHealth and Digital Health, and the accessibility of this technology to the masses by way of computers and smartphones; patients and healthcare providers are able to leverage this technology to improve patient outcomes. In a Wall Street Journal article, Topol wrote, “With innovative digital technologies, cloud computing and machine learning, the medicalized smartphone is going to upend every aspect of health care”. It is evident that the smartphone has brought great benefits to the health care industry. One of the biggest areas is the recording of medical histories. While one can argue that this is simply a matter of record keeping, the impact for healthcare can be lifesaving.
In today’s society, most people including the elderly have smartphones. Many people can keep their medication lists, as well as their medical histories recorded on their phones. This information is literally available at a patient’s fingertips for use at any time. My parents keep such lists in a notepad on their phones and update their lists as needed when medications change.
Innovation has seen the development of many health and fitness applications which may be downloaded to the smartphone. In fact, many health insurance companies have their own applications which can be downloaded by members. There are many different apps depending on what needs to be captured. An individual can use an app to keep track of their medications, lab results, physicians, and illnesses, surgeries, allergies, etc. Having the ability to keep these records so closely at hand, significantly increases the information available to healthcare providers from patients. This availability of information can lead to decreased medical errors or adverse events and an increase in positive healthcare outcomes.
The advent of cloud computing has increased the capabilities of records storage. This coupled with EMRs, and information systems existing within health insurance companies can provide an excellent database for a patient’s medical history. As I travelled around and out of the country this year, this ability to access my health information was comforting. My health insurer has the last 5 years of my medical history on file. This can be accessed from any computer or even my smartphone. In the event that I need medical attention, my medical history is easily accessible.
There are so many situations where this access to information is necessary and can be life saving. The unconscious patient, the confused patient, the patient who is too nervous to remember their medical history or the medications they are taking; all could be easily assisted with access through technology. While it is noted that there is considerable work that needs to be done with regards to patient and provider education, the tech savvy population is already well versed in managing their healthcare information both off and online.
In today’s healthcare environment, with EMRs and integrated systems such as Healthchat; patient admissions are easier than ever. Medical histories can be shared and updated as needed, and providers and doctors can have access to the same information preventing medical errors and adverse events from happening.