Doctors and Medicine

Information Technology  (abcnews online) November 2019

Patients may not even think of it as they sign in with a pad and pen, then sit in the waiting room while the nurse pulls their file. But doctors say the Internet and information technology has actually changed the way they practice medicine for the better. Even doctors need to look things up from time to time.

“Early in practice, if I had a clinical question to research, I had to go to the library, pull out multiple years of the Index Medicus, look up the topic, write down the references, go to the stacks and pull the volumes of journals, find the article, read the article, go to the copy machine and make a copy& if I were lucky, I would have my answer in about four hours,” said John Messmer, MD, associate professor at the Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey.

“Now I can be on rounds and in five minutes have more information on the topic than I need & on my iPod Touch, I can look up a medication, check the formulary to see if it’s covered, check for interactions with a patient’s other meds and double-check details of the pharmacology of the med plus quickly review the problem I am treating, and I don’t even have to go online,” said Messmer.

Information technology has also, to some degree, made life safer for the patient. Once admitted to a hospital, they get a bar code which matches their blood samples and their IVs.

“The ways in which computer systems are improving hospital care & are pervasive and radical,” explained Margaret Humphreys, MD, PhD, editor of the Journal of the History of Medicine.

But many physicians have been reluctant to go digital because there is a significant upfront investment, which is why several of the healthcare reform measures now before Congress include provisions to underwrite some of this cost.

And with or without reform, the Obama administration had an ambitious program aimed at converting paper records to electronic health records.  It earmarked $20 billion to pay for the switch-over and named medical IT wonk David Blumenthal, MD, to serve as National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.