I put a file into Dropbox on my computer, and suddenly I can access it on my phone or on another computer’s browser, as long as I have the password. The technology is there, so why can’t we share medical records?
My last rheumatology appointment was good, but it could have been better. It would have been nice if she knew what blood tests I’d had done lately. Unfortunately, she had zero information on that. I have some info, but it was at home. I hadn’t thought to bring it. Digitalization of medical records has been spreading and I love it. Unfortunately, at best it has been happening within individual medical practices and hospital systems, but not across them. This means that if you see 5 doctors at Beth Israel, they can all see each other’s tests, notes, comments, etc. However, if you see 4 doctors at Beth Israel and 1 doctor at Mass General, the Mass General doctor can’t see anything from the others. And this is what happened to me at my rheum appointment. She had just switched to a new hospital. The old hospital was supposed to send my records over months ago, but they’re backlogged and hadn’t gotten to it. Even worse, none of my other doctors are in this hospital system, so she can’t see their notes, either. We were stuck.
As for me, I can only see certain things from one hospital. Thankfully, that hospital realizes how useful it is for patients to see their own medical info. I can’t see everything, but I can see most test results. That’s fantastic! Unfortunately, I can’t see any other information, and the other hospital networks I’m using don’t have this option as far as I know.
I’m certain it doesn’t have to be this way. Yes, it’s important to have security measures in place. I definitely don’t want random people seeing my medical information! But should I be able to access my records whenever I want? Why must I make multiple phone calls, pay a fee (paying a fee to see my own records is absurd!) and wait for weeks or even months just to see my own records? Why can’t my doctors all see each other’s notes and labs? It would improve my healthcare greatly!
It is unrealistic to assume a patient will only see doctors in one hospital network. In fact, that’s one reason my original diagnosis was delayed for so many years – my PCP refused to refer me outside of his network, and they didn’t have the right specialist. If I’d been sent to the right specialist, I could have potentially been diagnosed many years earlier and had very different outcomes.
I have been going to the trouble of getting copies of all of my labs over the last several months. It’s a big effort, bigger than it should be, so far, it’s been worth it. And that’s why later today, I’m going to head over to the library to copy those labs (yes, I know photocopiers save images, but what choice do I have?) I’m seeing a new doctor in a new network in a few weeks. I’ve been waiting for months to get into this particular practice and I finally have an appointment. Unfortunately, he won’t have access to any of my medical records, so it’s up to me to bring them. I will spend time, energy, and money to make copy after copy. Then I will bring the large stack of papers with me, and it will be up to the doctor to find the relevant ones, since there won’t be any easy sort or filter options as there would, or at least should, be on a computer.
This system is harder than it needs to be and it’s hurting patients. It needs to change. If the goal in seeing doctors and other medical professionals is to get healthy, then shouldn’t this be considered a priority?