Family member A is ill — cold? flu? Gets worse. Calls doctor.
Doctor is away. A speaks with doctor’s colleague. Colleague listens to A’s account of symptoms, tells A to go to emergency room.
Family member B accompanies A to hospital. Emergency-room doctor examines A — infection? what’s that thing in lungs? Doctor asks if recent chest x-ray is available. B and C (me) consult by phone. B tells emergency-room guy to call A’s doctor’s office to access whatever records are there. Meanwhile I track down most-recent CT-scan records at another hospital. B is now driving there to pick up a disk with the scans on it.
In the middle of our discussions B says something like: This is crazy. All of these records should be centrally accessible and under the control of the patient. Why isn’t all of the information we need available online?
B is right. In the current system service providers control most of the information but have little incentive to coordinate access with other service providers. Indeed there is a disincentive to do so: they can get into trouble if information is misused but don’t benefit directly when improved information-sharing helps patients.
Technically, this is not a difficult problem. Institutionally and legally, however, it seems to have much in common with drug-resistant bacteria.
At least there is progress in other areas. The practice of medicine itself seems to improve over time. And thank God for cellphones, and for the technology that makes it possible to put a copy of a CT scan onto a computer disk in a few minutes.