Hitting a Nerve

When the EMR is MIA


“It’s in the computer.”

How many times a week do you hear that?

Dr. Allan M. Block, a neurologist is Scottsdale, Ariz.

Dr. Allan M. Block

The advent of the modern EMR has created a new belief in many patients: That all medical office computers are connected, and information from one can be obtained from any of them. So when I ask patients if they had labs, or an MRI, or what their medications are, that’s what I sometimes hear back.

“It’s in the computer.”

True, but not MY computer.

Then they get perplexed, and irritated. Didn’t someone at the other office, or their friends, or something they read online, tell them I’d have access to it? Isn’t all medical info in a giant online database, somewhere, and all doctors can get into it?

Admittedly, I’m probably in better shape than other solo-practice docs. I have access codes to two local radiology places, two large labs, and the largest health care system in my corner of Phoenix. So although I’m not technically a part of them, I can still pull records when I need them for patient care. But if the patient is in my office right then, it takes a minute. My office wifi isn’t the fastest, I have to enter passwords, then do two-factor authentication.

I understand – very much – the importance of the added layers of security, but it adds time to the visit.

Some people, with perhaps more faith in technology than is justified, still don’t understand this. Another doctor sent them to see me, so why don’t I have the results of previous tests and labs? If they tell us what tests they had, and where, and when they make the appointment I can often be prepared for them. But this isn’t consistent.

On the surface some sort of large-scale medical database for everyone sounds good. It would be nice to not have to scramble to get past test results when people come in, and would probably save a lot of money on duplicated labs. But there are legitimate concerns about security and privacy, too.

Not only that, but “it’s in the computer” is also only as good as the people working them. Recently I got a call from an office in a local health care system asking for my notes on a patient. I’d sent them, but they insisted they hadn’t received them. From my desk I logged into their system and found my notes, neatly scanned in and labeled with my name and specialty. When I picked up the phone and told the young lady where to look, she was nice enough to apologize.

I get that. I often overlook things under my own nose, too. But no amount of technology will fix that issue for me or anyone else.

Unfortunately, this misplaced faith in technology doesn’t seem to be going away. People will still keep believing that it works much better than it really does.

That’s human nature, too.

Dr. Block has a solo neurology practice in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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