The challenging thing about the unexpected is that you never know what will happen when. Preparation may seem futile, yet it is essential. Electronic health records (EHR) may seem too burdensome, yet how else can your care records really be gathered and maintained over time.
You may have read about what happened in Joplin, MO with the tornado devastation. Many people lost their lives and, for others, they lost their homes and belongings. For the hospital, it was severely damaged, yet it was able to get operational faster, partly due to the fact they had implemented an EHR.
Here is the perspective of Dottie Bringle, R.N., Chief Operating Officer and Chief Nursing Officer at St. John’s Mercy Hospital in Joplin:
“Having an EHR allowed us to be able to know exactly who all the patients were in our hospital so we were able to locate each and everyone fairly quickly after the EF5 tornado hit. If we only had paper [records], it would have been very difficult to manage our patients.”
To many of us, this may be just another story off in a distant place. No tangible impact to us.
When the story becomes your story, it all changes. About three months ago, my brother was in an explosion. Blown from his home in the middle of the night, his life dramatically changed. Thankfully, he lived through it, and he is slowly recovering. This story is not about my brother or other disasters which happen; it is a story of the importance of some preparation and the role EHRs play.
Preparation. From personal experience, there are certain records you should have stored somewhere outside your residence, yet they are accessible by someone in your family or friend network. Here are some examples I would suggest:
- A copy of your insurance card that includes policy and group numbers
- A copy of your driver’s license
- A copy of your social security card
- A record of any current health conditions that may impact future care (e.g., diabetes)
- If you are really detailed, a list or photos of what is in your home
- Your power of attorney document
- Your medical power of attorney document
- A listing of key financial accounts
- A listing of social media and email accounts and passwords
There may be others, but I know these were some of the things we needed and did not have. Some of the items on the list may be obvious, but most of us have not taken the step to have it available in an accessible safe deposit box or with a trusted friend or family member.
Some of the less obvious may be the last two – financial and social media accounts. The financial accounts are needed so that any bills that need to be paid can be. On the social media front, monitoring email, Facebook, or other accounts may be needed to let people know what has happened or ensuring unwanted things do not get posted in the various channels. It is just a new fact of our web-connected world.
An after-the-fact preparation point is this – use social media to communicate with friends and family. As you are caring for your friend or family member, you really cannot talk to everyone who wants to know status or how they can help. Create a Facebook page or use CaringBridge; both are excellent resources that will help you tremendously.
EHR Role. Again, from a personal standpoint, when I watched the diligent medical staff update my brother’s record every 20 minutes or more, 24 hours a day, I just thought to myself, how will anyone be able to sort through all of this? How will it be summarized? How will it be carried forward to other physicians and clinicians as his care continues through the coming months and years?
When they wheeled him out of his room for x-rays or some other tests, they tossed a binder filled with papers on his bed. I assumed that binder contained important information about his current condition.
Having your health care context in digital format is the only real way it can be managed, not only for you individually, but how your care is transferred or continued between different providers. There needs to be an electronic portfolio of your care, summarizing diagnoses made, wounds healed, bones broken, etc.
As obvious as it sounds, we may miss this point – health care is personal. It is about you, and the people who support you, your community of care and love.
- If you do not have your relevant data to give to family members for those times when you are unable to give it, there are delays in the administrative support of what hospitals and physicians need.
- If you do not have access to your relevant health care data, especially after a tragedy or extended recovery period, future physicians may miss an important understanding as they continue to provide care to you.
And, really, these are the points of this post.
- From an individual perspective, prepare for the unexpected. It will help you and your family and friends as they support you in your time of need.
- From a health care system perspective, digitize and connect patient care records as fast as you feasibly can. It is for the benefit of the individual and the community of care which surrounds the individual as they recover.
We all have health stories. Some may be more intense; some may unfold as a natural part of life. Preparing, as best we can, is a theme which needs to be woven into our personal health narrative.
Any points you would add to be properly prepared? Please share your ideas and experiences.