Almost all hospitals and physicians in the United States have put their patients' health records onto computers. But one of the goals of that transition remains a work in progress: building a nationwide system that would make key information about a patient available anywhere — in any hospital, clinic or doctor's office.
The goal is an essential step in making full use of electronic health records. It eventually could improve the coordination of care, reduce the number of unnecessarily duplicated tests and give doctors information that can help them make better decisions.
To start, there’s the complexity of health care. By one estimate, a system for electronic health records can have 150,000 data points, or discrete units of information, ranging from a patient’s blood pressure to genetic markers. And most of the systems are configured and customized differently by each health system.
“I often call interoperability deceptively simple,” said Julia Adler-Milstein, an associate professor of information and health management and policy at the University of Michigan.
But the federal incentives did result in hospitals and physician practices making the final push from paper records: 96% of hospitals and 78% of physicians now use electronic health records. And more information is being exchanged each year through the hodgepodge of networks that has emerged.