How community health networks can help solve ER problems

There’s another article on emergency room overcrowding and quality problems, this time in the Wall Street Journal (Is it a Heart Attack –or Indigestion? Helping the ER Doctors Get it Right). As we’ve read elsewhere, ERs are getting more crowded, triage is difficult, and information sharing and analysis isn’t as good as it should be.

The article focuses on what patients can do to improve the chance of a correct heart attack diagnosis, such as volunteering information on their risk factors, medical and family history, and carrying a copy of a previous ECG in their wallet. In an unconnected, paper-based system, that’s the best we can do. But there are clear limitations –starting with the fact that it’s hard to recall the key information when you are having a heart attack (or are unconscious).

A better solution is a communitywide electronic infrastructure –such as those being piloted by the Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative that I posted on yesterday— which would allow the ER to quickly retrieve all the information mentioned above and more. Such a system would improve the accuracy and comprehensiveness of the information, and reduce the amount of time required to gather it. And that’s just the start. A truly connected, coordinated care system would reduce the number of cases that end up in the emergency room by enabling earlier diagnosis and prevention before a crisis strikes.

March 29, 2005

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