Tue | Dec 12, 2017

Health + Tech | Heed the hurricane warnings ... digitise medical health records

Published:Sunday | September 10, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Patients being evacuated from Palms of Pasadena Hospital in South Pasadena, Florida, last Friday before Hurricane Irma struck the Us coast. The hospital is located in Zone A, which had a mandatory evacuation order for 6 a.m. Friday.
Halsall
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The recent devastating impact of natural disasters in the Caribbean and North America has underscored the dangers we face here in the region.

The region is no stranger to this as many of us has had to rebuild several times after a natural disaster.

In preparing for these disasters we usually think of the loss of our fixed assets such as cars, homes and other property, but we seldom give consideration to the possibility of the loss of important data.

A natural disaster can indeed result in wide-scale loss of important files, particularly those that are paper-based. Among the category of important files has to be one's medical records.

Imagine what could be the consequence if several hospitals and medical practices were destroyed due to a natural disaster.

Patients would no longer have an available medical history and would experience challenges with continuity of care. Lab and other diagnostic tests may have to be done over at great expense.

Records of illnesses and allergies that may affect treatment will be missing, potentially putting the patient's life at risk. This would also slow down the pace of care for some persons, especially those with non-communicable diseases such as cancer.

This would present several challenges to the patient, the medical practitioner and even those who may be in the middle of litigation and require medical information to make a legal determination.

The possibility of natural disasters provides another good case for the digitisation of health information. Jamaican health-care institutions should take note, given that many still use paper-based files even with the limited storage space.

This has already resulted in files being lost, damaged or simply misplaced by staff. Persons have at times also accused facilities of amending files after medico-legal complaints are made.

Technology and digitisation of patient records can resolve these issues, and in particular solve the problem of damaged files in case of a natural or unnatural disaster.

Jamaica is prone to hurricanes and we are in full preparedness mode for six months out of the year. This means that we continue to take a big risk with health records that are still paper-based. If these files are destroyed there is simply no way of retrieving them.

Present paper-based files can be converted to digitised records to ensure that a patient's medical history remains intact and accessible and that no part of the records is compromised due to any kind of natural disaster.

With digital records, there is always a backup locally, and in most cases in one or several data centres offshore. I strongly recommend that companies which host medical records in the Caribbean go the extra mile and locate one of their data centres outside of the hurricane belt. In fact, my company is making arrangements to move one of our three data centres to Curacao or Panama.

Jamaica is in the middle of a technology shift and electronic medical records (EMR) is at the heart of it. Despite this, the process is moving slowly along while hurricanes continue to churn around us.

This is despite the obvious positive benefits to the health sector which presents us with the opportunity to achieve a sustainable health system that stresses continuity of care.

It is hard to imagine a future for health care without digitisation, given the present trajectory of the industry internationally.

More countries are using technology as a way to solve age-old problems in the health sector and provide a link between medical personnel and patients even in the remotest of areas.

A comprehensive system of digitisation will not only shield us from the effects of disasters on our health-care sector but will also bring several other efficiencies, including a reduction in waste from the use of less paper, the opportunity to streamline tasks, better use of human resources, more efficient operational management, better disease management, improved customer service, better medical collaboration and improved availability of data for research purposes.

- Doug Halsall is the chairman and CEO of Advanced Integrated Systems. Feedback to: Doug.halsall@gmail.com or editorial@gleanerjm.com