LETTER OF THE DAY - Make medical records electronic
THE EDITOR, Sir:
The Sunday Gleaner lead story 'Careless: undercover investigation reveals lack of security for persons medical records at KPH and UHWI' (April 15) exposed a lack of security for patients' medical records.
After several visits to the hospitals, undercover journalists were able to access and leaf through several patient files, despite the nearby presence of nurses. Dr Trevor McCartney, acting CEO at the University Hospital of the West Indies, admitted that despite the obvious breach of protocol, it is difficult to completely secure patient files, as they may be needed at any point by medical staff.
Implementing an electronic medical record (EMR) system may provide a solution to this problem. EMR allows doctors and authorised medical personnel to quickly access patient files electronically.
Despite the need to determine a comprehensive internal security policy for this system as well, EMR could at least significantly lessen the likelihood of outside access to private medical files. Also, where there is a security breach with an EMR system, the possibility of performing an electronic audit trail could simplify the process of identifying the source of the breach.
In addition, EMR helps doctors safely collaborate on patient cases by easier sharing of information. Meanwhile, the patient no longer has to travel with his/her medical records; it is easily sent to whatever institution the patient is sent to, whether private or public.
Other Caribbean nations have already begun to embrace similar solutions, such as The Bahamas and Trinidad. From as early as March 2010, The Bahamas was in the final stages of completing consulting arrangements and service contracts to address the completion of an integrated report-generating electronic medical records information system.
Just last month, the minister of health in Trinidad, Dr Fuad Khan, described the record-keeping problem throughout the region as an archaic system. Khan said he has started to put systems in place to upgrade the method of record keeping within the health sector and convert it to electronic medical records. The minister said he is looking at implementing the 'iCloud' system within the regional health authorities (RHAs), which would allow medical documents within the public service to be stored wirelessly and accessed automatically through electronic servers within the RHAs.
It would be nice to hear more plans from Jamaica's Ministry of Health that speak to using technology to improve services and access to health care.
EMR and other e-health solutions such as telemedicine may, with proper guiding protocols, not only improve the security but also quality of health services. In the long term, it might be found to be more cost-effective, thereby allowing even more access to health for those who need it.