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How DMRs help doctors become, more involved, quality healthcare providers.


Introduction

Health care has seen tremendous growth over the past 2 centuries. With the advent of better curative and preventive medication, life expectancy has soared and with it, the life cycle of a doctor-patient relationship has also increased commensurately. For a doctor, managing a patient is a unique task, as each patient is a case history in itself. Proof that every individual is unique can be found in the way a similar disease manifests itself in different people, or the allergies that different people have to either a natural stimulus or drugs. It is in these and a plethora of other ways that Digitized Medical Records (DMRs) play a vital role in simplifying a medical practitioner’s life and enabling a renewed focus on a better patient service experience.


The medical profession, is based on positive word of mouth. Fact is that a patient’s experience with his doctor is key to the physician retaining his loyalty and also acquiring other patients, thanks to his existing patient’s recommendation. In simple terms, the retention and sustained loyalty, combined with a positive word of mouth is the only way a doctor can acquire new patients. Here’s where the creation of a more robust medical information delivery and referral network can also work wonders for a doctor’s practice. DMRs as an entry point into a wider framework is one of the most happy side effects of the entire process.


A physician takes an oath to help save and preserve human health and well being. This makes his role in the patient’s life a rather unique and powerful one. It is more to do with a relationship that is forged and maintained over long periods of time. DMRs help maintain and enhance the relationship between the doctor and his patients. With the network that DMRs create a whole new world of convenience is opened up to the physician. Referrals to hospitals, super-speciality clinics and pathological laboratories are some of the advantages of a DMR led network.


From a professional standpoint, a doctor’s reputation is the cornerstone of a successful practice. Given a doctor’s rather hectic and busy professional life, reliance on memory to diagnose diseases or administer treatments is normally a recipe for misdiagnosis which in the severest of cases can be fatal to a patient. DMRs significantly reduce said risk and enable a doctor to accurately diagnose and prescribe the correct medications to his patients. In the long run this helps reduce human error immensely, making the health care practice a lot more efficient and precise.


Medical records and their evolution into digitised form

Medical records by definition are the complete summary of a patient’s medical history, diagnosis records, prescriptions, allergy and symptom history, family and social indicators, history of surgeries, obstetric history and results and any and all things pertaining to episodes of a medical nature. Medical records enable an attendant physician to better diagnose and prescribe medication, therapy, tests, recommend a testing regime or lifestyle change or any other course of action, that results in a positive change in the patient’s health.


In the medieval times, medicine and astrology were almost inextricably tied. In fact one of the first forms of written records of a medical nature were said to be almanacs of health that were noted (in direct relation to a person’s horoscope). In the truest sense of the word, medical records and a reliance of medical records can be traced back to the invention and eventual availability of lifesaving medications. From the late 18th century onwards, a more scientific temper began to emerge in the practice of health care and from here on end the need to maintain proper medical records was first felt.


Medical records in the form of paper based records was the first significant development in this area. The evolution of paper based records, from a mere collection of prescriptions to a more exhaustive list of testing, surgical, obstetrics and family & social background based indexing records was a significant development over the 19th and 20th centuries. Along with the fact that paper as a medium was prone to decay, wear and tear and just plain corruption, the sensitive nature of medical records would necessitate investment in security, which in 20th century parlance, meant at the very least, a safe and in case of a larger database, a system of warehousing and secure storage.


With the advent and acceptance of information technology from the early 1980s, the need was felt to establish a more organised and secure system of cataloguing medical data. It was from here that Medical Process Outsourcing evolved. This included the system of transcribing medical records based on voice notes that a physician would make and send across to an IT-solutions provider who in turn would manually transcribe them into a template based record. While this enabled doctors to access medical records in a much quicker manner, the process itself was a lengthy and often times expensive one, which doctors with a limited practice could not afford.


Digital Medical Records today are the entry point to a comprehensive, medical information delivery system. What this means is that a doctor becomes a patient’s primary mode of entry into a proper, secure, backend system that ensures both the dissemination of his medical history to relevant stakeholders and the security of potentially sensitive data. Stored in the cloud to make access convenient, the convenience is only the tip of the iceberg, with regards to DMRs. The latest in encryption softwares also makes data invulnerable to misuse or tampering.


The Practical Challenges of working without DMRs

In a field as dynamic as health care, the limitations of paper based Medical Records are painfully evident. DMRs are the way to ensure that the medical practice remains relevant, accessible and evolves with the times. The following are the practical challenges of working without DMRs.


1) Reliance on memory: A doctor needs to treat every patient as a unique case. This means that in a private practice where he is visited by nearly 20 patients a day, he has to have each patient’s case history committed to memory. At the end of the day even a single lapse in memory from the physician can result in severe ramifications for a patient. In terms of a physician’s reputation, one misdiagnosis can ruin his practice. In the absence of DMRs therefore the chances of misdiagnosis increase exponentially.


2) Paper based records are limiting: Paper based records bring with them the inherent flaws of being indecipherable at times, easy to destroy, difficult to store and transport and of course, impossible to determine if anyone has had prior access to them. Rather than being an aid, paper based records are often limiting in the sense that being in hard copy form they are difficult to transport and not always easy to access. DMRs have introduced a greater level of both access and security to the storage of medical records and in making them available to medical practitioners with greater ease.


3) Investment in a secure filing system: One of the biggest problems with paper based records is the investment in a secure filing system, which is of course often untenable to doctors with a limited practice.


4) Limiting on a doctor’s time: In private practice, a doctor’s goal is to maximise the time spent with his patients or at least increase the number of patients he sees on a daily basis. If his time is divided between attending to patients and maintaining their records, it limits his ability to spend to devote more time to caring for more patients, which resultantly makes his practice, less profitable.


5) Unreadable prescriptions: One of the most common complaints patients have is the illegibility of their doctor’s handwriting. An illegible prescription can often impede a patients ability to get the appropriate medication and definitely hamper the recovery cycle.


6) Data exists in isolation: In one lifetime, a patient could have several doctors. This also means that his medical history is then spread out and possibly duplicated in several places, or relevant information exists in isolation. This makes accurate diagnosis next to impossible, especially in the case of switching doctors.


DMRs and their functional benefits

Digital Medical Records open up a whole world of convenience and practical efficiency to the medical practice. The following are the functional benefits of DMRs.


1) Ease of access: This simply means that a physician has a patient’s entire medical history at his fingertips and doesn’t need to rely on his memory, reducing the chance of misdiagnosis exponentially.


2) More systematised records: Given that a paper based record is quite a cumbersome task to maintain, a DMR is easy to edit, add to and maintain a comprehensive record of a patient’s medical history.


3) Easy to share: In case of having to refer a patient to a new doctor, prescribe medications or tests, or for further care at a hospital, a DMR is easy to share via the web.


4) Security: Since access to medical records are on a conditional basis, (i.e. username, password protected), they are difficult to tamper with. Since they’re also encrypted, they are also stored in a secure manner, giving the doctor and the patient peace of mind.


5) Increased focus on core competence: A DMR enables a physician to spend more time caring for his patients and improving the medical service delivery. Since they are a lot easier and less time consuming to maintain, DMRs enable a doctor to really maximise his time, therefore tending to more patients in the process.


6) Greater patient service experience: The access, security and convenience of medical records, combined with greater amount of time the patient gets to spend with a responsive, stress-free doctor, means that his experience is a superior one and the chances of him recommending his doctor to others also increases exponentially.


DMRs as an entry point to a more robust healthcare ecosystem

In what can only be described as a ripple effect, DMRs are actually an entry point into a more responsive and robust health care system. And here’s how it works.


A doctor introduces a patient to a system of DMRs by actually creating a medical record for the patient. Over time, this record gets added to, edited and collated.


This record helps serve as a comprehensive guide for any other health care professional or institution, the patient may interact with.


With the access that a patient has to health records, it becomes a lot easier for him to manage his family’s and his own personal health.


For doctors, this system enables them to share quickly and securely any and all information that is critical to patient care, with other medical care providers.


A network thus created will include hospitals, super-speciality clinics, pathological laboratories and pharmacies, which complete the loop of diagnostics, testing, rehabilitation, speciality health care, and of course recuperation. Increased collaboration between different stakeholders of the medical profession can only mean good things for a patient.


For the physician, it means that getting in touch with colleagues and health care professionals becomes a whole lot easier. This means that collaboration, research and information sharing is taken to a whole new level of convenience.


Conclusion

DMRs enable doctors to focus on their core competence of caring for patients in the best possible way. Minimising human errors and the ability to recommend their patients to quality healthcare professionals, is another huge contribution of DMRs. This enables doctors to devote more time and energy to being more involved, quality healthcare professionals.