Technology plays a major role in our society today. We can read our favorite book on our tablet, listen to music on our MP3 players, and even take classes online with the use of the Internet. These advances in technology are now even frequently used in the medical field. In 2009, Congress passed the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, which promotes electronic health records, or EHRs, to be used in all medical professions. This act allows for all patient health records to be stored in computer databases. With regards to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), this transition will strengthen protections and rights related to an individual’s health information. The implications of this act in the field of optometry and the adaption to EHRs will greatly benefit any practice that is making this transition to going paperless.
With many practices around now, one can imagine huge file cabinets filled with hundreds of charts of patients’ information from years past, from prescriptions, diagnosis, and information only the doctors can translate. Adapting EHRs in practices like these with the use of electronic records will eliminate the clutter of these paper charts in an organized fashion. Being able to access these charts via computer screen, office staff will not have to search for patients’ files in these cabinets, which can be an issue if their last visit was in 2001 and this patients has an emergency of some kind. The use of a database to easily search for patients’ profiles from the computer will help remove the trouble of misplaced files and allow for easy access if the doctor needs to see a patient on short notice.
The adaption to EHRs in the clinical setting will allow doctors to change from traditional paper files to electronic records. This will be a major transition from any traditional sense of evaluating a patient, but will not take away from the thoroughness of a full eye exam. With different software used to take health records, a doctor will be able to go through a patient’s record and check and evaluate the data for any changes with just a click of the mouse. Profiling of patients’ data will be more organized and less cluttered than with a tradition paper method and will allow the doctor to flow through chart information with ease. By doing so doctors can improve chair time and allow the patient to know and understand what is going on with the evaluation.
One thing to note in all medical professions will be the method in which the doctor gathers information for each patient. In the past, doctors would fill out patient file sheets to gather patients’ information and diagnosis, write prescriptions, and document any changes to the patients’ health. Keeping these files and tracking any changes over a period of time assist with further care for a patient. If a practiced optometrist or any doctor’s office with paper files has archives for each patient, these paper files with the notes for monitoring these changes will be different when the doctor needs to translate his or her notes and input information into the computer.
Making this transition will take some time. The impact of technology will change the way information for each patient is recorded, especially in regards to the many manuscripts of information the doctor has already used to transcribe.
Now that the pen and paper method of taking patients’ information has changed with the use of technology, the problem of not being able to read the doctor’s notes will be a the thing of the past. When a person needs to copy information from a patient’s file, the information will not be confused by the illegibility of the writing given in the chart. Illegible mistakes, such as confusing a -1.00 diopter prescription compared to a -7.00 diopter, happen frequently in the practice of optometry, and this error is a common problem in every practice of medicine. When a doctor inputs information about a prescription for medication in the computer there will be less confusion as to what the prescription is and how much is needed. Mistakes like these will be completely reduced when nurses or staff members can use a computer screen to know what to prescribe a patient.
With the advancements in technology, the use of tablets and touch-screen systems will make the flow of inputting information more fluid in the clinical system. By being able to make notes on a tablet or a touch screen, the doctors will have more freedom when they are with patients. Visually showing what is happening to their eye, or showing them a certain procedure like LASIK surgery with the use of video or a visual description that will allow for the patient to understand what exactly is going on, will help ease patients if they are discouraged from what the doctor has to say. Using cameras to take pictures of the eye, or taking fundus pictures, can help in the diagnosis of diseases as well. The doctor can monitor certain changes in the eye by taking a picture of the fundus and being able to compare the condition to information from the patient’s last visit can be crucial. Adapting to this diagnosis method can give a clear indication as to what is going on the patients’ eyes.
Even though the transition to EHRs has not been as easy as some thought it would be, it is still in its early stages. We can expect many changes in the operation of the clinical setting that will hopefully take the medical profession many steps forward. The adaptation to utilize technology in the medical field is still very young in itself. It will take the efforts of both computer programmers and doctors to gain the greatest potential in this transition to EHRs.
With regards to the field of optometry, this change will have a significant impact on patient care and allow for great changes in the long run. It is exciting to see how these early changes will help doctors of the future in practice considering how well-developed optometry is today.