Reality Check: Health care and IT

There is an undercurrent of change taking place in health care, and technology is helping to bring about.

Many people believe that individuals must take personal responsibility for their own treatment and ultimately their own physical well-being. It is this belief that is slowly becoming embedded in our health care IT systems. And as health care goes high tech, IT expertise will be needed more than ever to manage all the new systems.

An umbrella technology already in use at major medical practices with 20 or more doctors -- according to Michael Lake, principal at Circle Square, a consultancy for strategy and business consulting in health care -- is the EMR (Electronic Medical Record).

Think of the EMR as a health history repository for all of a person's medical records, all in one place and accessible by any system at any medical office, hospital, outpatient facility, or EMR service.

Closely related to an EMR is an even newer concept called a PHR, Personal Health Record. A PHR might be stored on a USB key fob. Get knocked off your motorcycle as I did recently, and the EMR tech in the ambulance might plug the USB device into a notebook and bring up my entire medical history, including my past motorcycle mishaps!

Because an EMR has all the medical data in one place, it can, for example, chart the history of lab tests across time and if it detects a disturbing trend it can send an alert not only to the doctor but also to the patient. If I get an e-mail that my cholesterol is trending up I can take action immediately rather than waiting six weeks until my next doctors appointment. It might even link me to a site that offers low cholesterol diets.