It’s 2015 — Why Haven’t Our Medical Records Entered The Digital Age?

In this digital age, we have devices that track our daily exercise and the quality of our sleep. Test results are sent from lab to physician in hours, and doctors can see patients over video conference. And yet, a patient sometimes can’t easily have her medical file sent from one doctor to another, even in the same building, and sometimes medical record software is so difficult to work with that a doctor can only search one page at a time.

Our medical records were supposed to join the information age: a single repository with a person’s entire medical history, accessible to all who should see it, safe from those who shouldn’t, easily mined to improve individual care and the health care industry at large. Presidents Bush and Obama signed on to the movement, creating incentives for doctors to switch to EHRs and penalizing them if they didn’t. The federal government invested heavily in EHRs over the past decade, around $30 billion, trying to achieve their widespread use. But we are still a long way off, and before we get there, there are questions about data ownership and privacy to be worked out.

Most hospitals now use an electronic system, and more than three-quarters of doctors’ offices use of some kind of electronic record. But those records are tucked in a complicated web of hundreds of kinds of proprietary software with limited applications that frequently don’t talk to one another.