Disaster Reminds of Us Of EMR Virtues

Posted on March 12, 2011 I Written By

Katherine Rourke is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

As anyone reading this must know, Japan now faces horrific logistical problems in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami that hit on March 11.

While I’m sure Japanese officials have more urgent issues on their hands, one that will arise when caring for the injured is that natural disasters wipe out paper records — including medical charts, of course.

Japan does have an HIE strategy under way, funded with billions in stimulus funds, but it hasn’t had time to mature. EMR coverage is patchy, though like here in the U.S., on the upswing.  Research interest is high; in fact, medical informatics specialists there have developed their own clinical data exchange format, the Medical Markup Language. All told, however, health data digitization and sharing is still in its early stages, or so it seems from the reading I’ve done.

Now, back to the present. In a time of national disaster, wouldn’t it  have been great for Japan to have a robust HIE network in place, one which not only made it easy to share data but provided for backups offshore that wouldn’t be washed away by a wall of ocean water?  In fact, wouldn’t any country or region ride out disasters better with health data sharing in place?

While I’m not suggesting data portability in times of emergency is the most important reason for building out HIEs/EMRs, it’s a good public health tool when clinicians have to work fast.   It wouldn’t hurt when pandemics strike, either — just imagine the good a sophisticated, mature national health network in could have done in tracking, tracing and treating H1N1 when the illness was at its peak.

Just one more thing to think about as we argue, worry about costs and in some cases, drag our feet over EMR launches.