Record progress: VA patients’ care will improve with file sharing

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Consumers routinely order products electronically and then pay their bills the same way. Many businesses conduct most of their transactions and communications via computer. People even rely on electronic transactions to send such personal greetings as birthday or anniversary cards.

By contrast, too much of the information that is vital in providing modern medical care still is retained on paper or in electronic records that are kept exclusively by individual hospitals or doctor’s offices. That’s not the best way to make sure up-to-date patient information is available to physicians when they are faced with health care decisions, and that’s why a joint effort of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and 10 local institutions is worth applauding.

By the end of the year, the VA’s health database in Western Pennsylvania will be linked into a regional one called ClinicalConnect, which is led by UPMC and includes Butler Health System, Armstrong County Memorial Hospital, Excela Health, Heritage Valley Health System, St. Clair Hospital, Washington Health System, Presbyterian SeniorCare, the Pediatric Alliance and The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh. When completed, all of the participating hospitals should be able to both view and submit patient information.

That should mean the end of inefficient, inconvenient means of either having medical offices fax or mail test results and medical records to one another or asking patients or family members to cart the important documentation from one place to the next.

The Pennsylvania Medical Society supports electronic records, standards for their use and seamless exchanges by health systems.

Despite widespread support for the development of secure records sharing, though, a survey of physicians last year by the American Medical Association raised questions. Doctors reported that some technology interferes with face-to-face discussions with patients, forces them to spend too much time on clerical functions and encourages note-taking that is more generic and less specific to patients.

Those issues must be addressed as electronic record sharing becomes more pervasive, but the concerns should not become roadblocks to development of systems that make it easy for doctors to see patients’ complete records no matter where they go for treatment.

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