Thursday, December 11, 2008

Electronic Medical Records Will Be Key Part Of Obama Initial Healthcare Reform

I’m retired and with my regular bills I can’t afford to carry medical insurance. Like many Americans I considered myself to be in good health at the time I retired and hoped that I would be able to make it to 65 and Medicare eligibility without coverage. I was 60 at the time and it seemed like a reasonable gamble. I also hoped that in the interim government would finally realize it needed some form of national health insurance that would provide universal coverage to all. A concept I see as one that should be the right of all citizens.

Well I didn’t make it. Luckily I had a fall back plan. About two years ago I had a medical emergency when I was diagnosed with a blot clot in my lower leg. Since I’m a Vietnam era veteran with a military related disability and eligible for coverage I turned to the VA for medical treatment. In the course of follow up treatment of the clot, and the VA doctors attempts to find the cause, I was diagnosed with early stage prostate cancer.

Today all I can say about it is thank god for the VA. The excellent treatment I received for the blood clot and the cancer ended in success. My blot clot has disappeared and so has my prostate cancer. My follow up screening indicates that the surgery was successful in removing the cancer and it has left me with little or no side effects associated with this type of surgery.

But the point I'd like to make here is that I became quite familiar with the VA medical delivery system, at least in the Puget Sound region, and so far I have been extremely impressed. Like many I had a skeptical concept of the VA before I went there for treatment. But, what I found was that the quality of care there was comparable or better in many cases then treatment in the private sector. One important example of innovations found at the VA is the working agreement that the VA hospitals in the Puget Sound Region have with the University of Washington Medical School and Harborview Medical Center. The doctor who perform my cancer surgery at the VA was actually a professor at the University of Washington Medical School who taught doctors how to perform prostate cancer surgery. Not bad eh when it comes to finding a qualified doctor?

In the mid 1990’s the VA health care system was in deep crisis when the then under secretary for health at the VA Kenneth Kizer began to work his magic. One of his many reforms was the computerization of the medical records of veterans. The system he help created has become the envy and model for all medical delivery systems not only in the United States but in the world. The cost savings were enormous and the access to individuals medical information has revolutionized medical treatment systems. For instance, I can go anywhere in the world where there is a VA health care facility and access my complete medical treatment history from the closest computer terminal.

This universal accessible medical records database also created a systematic way to tract such thing as population disease occurrence patterns as well as problem areas like medical error and more mundane areas like lab test results. The benefit derived from the continuity of care created by the electronic record system brought about major systemic benefits to the modern VA system. Computerized record keeping helped turn the VA into one of the most admired medical deliver systems in the world, saving lives and lowering costs substantially, as much as 25% per patient according to a number of studies.

At President Elect Obama press conference today naming Tom Daschle his Health and Human Services Director Obama responded to a question about where the money was coming from for health care reform, especially in light of the economic situation. The President elect said he would aim first to lower medical cost and attack areas were medical treatment can be made more efficient. This reform should bring about substantial cost savings making the creation of a national health care system more of a reality. At the center of this cost savings and efficiency will be the computerizing of your medical records.

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