The Obama administration is working hard on solutions to the high cost, spotty availability and inefficiencies of our current medical system. As if the economic crisis, foreign policy nightmares and energy issues weren’t enough, taking on the US’s human healthcare insufficiencies as well will take an act of God to surmount. 

No matter, we have to start somewhere, right? Some proposals have already been floated. The ones I’ve looked at? They all seem to include the adoption of computerized medical records. And it’s about time. 

For decades now, the concept of computerizing medical records has been out there. For the past ten or so years, the technology has been readily available to most any physician. Indeed, veterinarians have been working these programs for almost as long as they’ve been available. 

Yet the bulk of healthcare practitioners continue to eschew them based primarily on privacy concerns. Never mind that we’re willing to play with our money online––shopping, banking and even gambling with it. Never mind that encryption technology feels far safer to us than entering any human hospital with no records in tow.

That’s why the resistance to computerized medical records seems incredible to me. I just don’t get it. 

Back to the animals:

Despite the veterinary profession’s acceptance of so-called “paperless” medical records systems, it’s by no means a universal phenomenon. The vast majority of us still labor, pen on paper, without them. Though new hospitals are happy to start afresh with nary a thought as to reaching for a writing tool, the rest of us are transitioning very slowly to the concept of no physical records. 

  • What will we do if the power goes out? We’re not big hospitals with generators, right? 
  • And if the phone lines go down, too? Where’s all our stuff now? Where are the backups? 
  • In the event of a hurricane? Who’ll fish us out of the paperless abyss? 
  • And what if I can’t type? I mean...zero typing skills.

These are all valid concerns, more so for small hospitals and clinics than for big, human hospitals. Many hospitals feel they can’t justify the extra cost (mostly involved in the labor required to transition to a new system). Then there’s the issue of older practitioners who haven’t even heard of Twitter, much less do the understand the value of computerizing anything.What the heck do you do with that contingent? 

To my way of thinking, computerized medical records are better medicine for a huge host of reasons. They allow for all organ systems to be checked off as within normal limits, aberrant or “not examined.” Diseases can be tracked. All chronic and previous medical issues are flagged. All drug or vaccine reactions are prominently noted.

Not only are these systems safer, they mean better medicine because the information of the Internet is more readily accessed, some programs offer diagnostic software, and most offer easily printed cautions, complete drug labels, drug interaction warnings, recommendations, home care instructions and informative articles for pet owner education. 

All these features, plus accessibility of records to specialists and emergency hospitals and the potential for cost-cutting due to duplication of work (which is what makes them so attractive in human health), it's invaluable. What’s not to like? 

Do I work in a paperless office? Heck no. (Dammit!) But I lobby for it regularly. Can I complain? Not really...especially now that I’m finally getting my digital X-rays. Picking my battles, as Obama seems to have done, is working out for me. Now let’s see if I can manage to get my new hospital. the paperless system will doubtless follow. Wish me luck.