This is a written prescription for Avandia, a medicine to treat diabetes. When read,
though, it is often confused with Coumadin, a drug that stops the blood from
clotting. This picture is used to illustrate the need for electronically-prescribed
medication and other health information technology.

Patient Palm Readers the Latest Effort to Digitize Health Records

April 07, 2009 01:05 PM
by Emily Coakley
An automatic hospital check-in is an example of how American health care is moving away from paper patient records.

Hospital Takes Next Step Toward Electronic Records

A health system in Illinois is expediting the check-in process with digital consoles that read a patient’s palm and pull up their health record, Fortune magazine has reported. Springfield Clinic has 24 sites that serve 14 counties in Southern Illinois, and its chief information officer told Fortune that the kiosks are a response to customer complaints about the check-in process.

After setting up a profile and having a picture and palm scan taken, “the patient registers in subsequent visits by merely putting a hand on the screen.” The device maps the veins in a person’s palm, which are “virtually impossible to replicate,” according to representatives of the manufacturer.  

With $19.5 billion in stimulus funds available for hospitals to move patients’ records into the digital realm, more and more hospitals are likely to launch efforts similar to the one in Springfield.
But some organizations haven’t waited for federal funding. Yesterday, online health records service Google Health announced that it was partnering with CVS, one of the country’s largest pharmacies.

“By partnering with CVS and other pharmacies, individuals can now access their prescription history online and import it into their secure Google Health accounts,” Information Week’s Google Blog reported.

Google Health launched last year.

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Background: The digital push in medicine

Though the stimulus funds have brought more attention to electronic health records, the federal government has been encouraging the health care industry for years to adopt electronic health records. During the Bush administration, federal agencies offered, and continue to offer, free software and tools for hospitals and other organizations.

On Monday, Government Technology magazine wrote that the federal Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology has made free software available “to help public and private health information technology systems communicate to the Nationwide Health Information Network.”

As its name suggests, the Nationwide Health Information Network would allow a patient’s health records to follow the person electronically, wherever that person may seek care.

Electronic health records are thought to be a significant step in reducing medical errors. For example, everyone has heard jokes about doctors’ bad handwriting, but some aren’t laughing. Having a doctor use a computer to prescribe a medicine eliminates the need for a hand-written prescription, and reduces the likelihood that the wrong medicine will be prescribed.

Many things can go wrong when it comes to prescribing and administering drugs, and medication is thought to account for a large percentage of medical errors.

Actor Dennis Quaid and his family have personally been affected by a hospital’s medication error.  As 10-day-old infants, his twins were accidentally given large doses of a blood-thinning drug that could have killed them. The babies, who were being treated at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, suffered “massive hemorrhaging,” but have recovered and are healthy toddlers, according to the site Modern Healthcare.

But other infants who received large doses of heparin died in a spate of widely publicized incidents around the country over the course of two years.

Quaid and his wife have used their experience to advocate for more electronic measures in the hospital. He was the keynote speaker this week at the Healthcare Information and Management System Society annual meeting in Chicago.

Related Topic: Using the Web to fill in patient histories

Federally sponsored Web site Family Health History re-launched in January. It’s a free tool that allows people to fill out their medical history and share it with family members electronically.

A family history is considered an essential part of a person’s health record, though research shows the information usually contains errors, according to findingDulcinea.

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