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Terry McLeod of ehrSIO ProjectsehrSIO Projects
A blog about the technical and software sides of mental health and addictions

Universal Health Record

Terry McLeod Updated: Sep 7th 2012

It's all in one place. Not.

laptop and stethescopeNot long ago I received an Email from professional who read my post on the demise of GoogleHealth, and he brought up the topic of a "universal health record".

The current and past couple presidents have helped this country move toward electronic sharing of patients' Protected Health Information (PHI), simply because it's good for us. These days consumers have options. Primary Care Providers send them to specialists in every discipline from cardiology to mental health. When a consumer arrives to a new facility, the amount of paperwork can be daunting. Filling out name, address, and other duplicate information has become an unnecessary nuisance thanks to the Electronic Health Record (EHR).

My friend was a little critical of vendors of (EHR)s that computerize patient health records for professionals and the organizations they work for, believing that none have really made the jump into a practical method of sharing data that makes up the Universal Health Record that's practical on a nationwide data-sharing basis. Whereas it's taking far too long to have a terrific system to accomplish this in our country, I believe we're taking baby steps in the right direction. He also suggested using a personal database to store personal health information that could be shared among the consumer and the professionals that serve him. In my mind, that might be a piece of the puzzle, but not a key to sharing PHI.

The solution to the sharing of PHI lies in organizations like a Regional Health Information Organization (RHIO). Without boring too many folks with the details, RHIOs and organizations like them act as data middlemen, assuring a consumer's confidential information remains confidential (and "Protected"). They route data that's been approved by the consumer to move among the specialists I mentioned above, hospitals and other healthcare organizations who might be helping the same consumer. Right now, the work is actually a long way down the line in creating electronic "Continuing Care Documents" (CCD)s that carry PHI like prescriptions and who's treating whom for what. It's far from finished, and not perfect…baby steps.

Vendors of EHRs have a particular interest in this because their products hold all the data at each of the healthcare specialists and organizations I've been talking about.

You can read my reviews and see some good things about the mental health and addictions treatment records on the market today. There are around 84 vendors out there serving this business sector, and the products vary in how they approach the EHR. My friend is more critical than I am, although I agree with some of the things he had to say.

The vendors who are selling software products in this sector have chosen an interesting way to make a living. You can't please everyone…in fact, it's difficult to please anyone. Technology being what it its (imperfect), and vendor organizations being made up of people (imperfect) who work with models for their software that really describe the need of a minority of organizations (imperfect, imperfect, imperfect). In my business I have been to many treatment facilities, and while there are many similarities, each one is original and different from its peers.

To resolve this difficulty and serve more organizations, vendors have included "simple" software screen design tools and report writers that will help manage a consumer's record and run the business. The idea is for the customer to modify the system to suit their needs. It's turned out to be a complicated addition to the EHR that can be a godsend or big trouble, depending on how it's used and how fate decides to move in changing the ever-changing environment of mental health and addictions treatment. The EHR can lose consistency, and data commonly needed for treatment among many professionals for a consumer can get lost in all that "special" screen design, never being shared with other professionals who might need it to better treat a consumer.

The RHIOs and the CCD have added a level of consistency to the EHR that helps us move toward the Universal Health Record. Vendors are cooperating with one another in the effort by joining the Software Association (SATVA). The government has helped in the effort as a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and (HITECH) funneling funds to the states for the sake of supporting and improving the huge healthcare industry and healthcare IT that serves that industry. We ain't there yet, but we're taking baby steps and will get to the Universal Health Record.

Terry McLeod

Electronic Health Records (EHRs) are a required part of our society, and improving business workflows with the EHR is imperative for the survival of your local mental health and addictions treatment clinics. Terry McLeod provides the bridge between the mental health and addictions professional and the technical world, as well as the glue to keep it working. Contact McLeod at terry.mcleod@ehrsio.com and get more information from his website and blog, ehrsio.com/.

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