Tim Cromwell’s mother-in-law is 86 years old. Her husband is a Korean War veteran who developed Alzheimer’s disease, and receives care from both the VA and private healthcare providers. Because she and her husband take so many medications, they actually replaced their dining room table centerpiece with a collection of orange and white pill bottles. Mrs. Spencer keeps a hard copy of all of her husband’s medical records in a large file box that she carries with her on a cart with wheels. She has no alternative for keeping all her husband’s providers up to date with his complex care, and lifting and transporting the records has become more difficult for her in her eighth decade.
If this story sounds all too familiar, then you’ll be glad to know that the government is facilitating electronic medical and pharmacy records portability. One day it may be possible for Americans to dispose of those hard copy files, knowing that any provider anywhere can access their records as requested.
Tim Cromwell is passionate about alleviating his mother-in-law’s need to carry medical records around, and believes the way to do this is through the US Department of Veterans Affairs’ participation in the Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN). Working in compliance with NHIN standards, the Federal Health Architecture group recently oversaw the creation of software (called CONNECT) that creates a seamless, secure and private interface with hospitals, and over 20 federal agencies’ medical records systems (including the Social Security Administration, Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Cancer Institute).
On April 6, 2009, NHIN released the CONNECT software necessary to make Electronic Medical Records systems interoperable. The software is “open-source” and free to all who’d like to incorporate it into their EMRs. Those who add the free software will be able to share data with NHIN’s member groups, which include early adopters like the Cleveland Clinic, Kaiser Permanente, Beth Israel Deaconness Medcial Center, and MedVirginia.
This means that if Mrs. Spencer and her husband receive their care from participating hospitals and federal programs, they’ll never have to tote paper records again. But it may take some nudging from patients and healthcare professionals like you to grow the network. If you’d like your hospital to participate in the NHIN network, encourage them to view the NHIN website here.