Electric med school

There’s more than massive data transfer and networking at work in the electronic applications that drive today’s health care systems.

There are for example EMRs – electronic medical records. The way Bernard Marlow sees it, EMRs are crucial to the future of health care, not least because they afford a unique opportunity for medical training.

There’s more than massive data transfer and networking at work in the electronic applications that drive today’s health care systems. Dr. Marlow, Director of Continuing Medical Education (CME) and Continued Program Development (CPD) for the College of Family Physicians of Canada, says EMRs offer the only approach that fits both CME and CPD programs. EMRs, he says, “occur at a teachable moment. That means I am learning something that is relevant to what I am doing. When it is important to know the answer, I more readily accept it. That is learning at teachable moments.”

Put another way, Marlow argues that a classroom has its limits as a vehicle for instruction. A doctor using EMRs when he or she is with a patient is more likely to remember the fine details of a given issue that someone who has merely picked them up in a lecture.

Marlow also believes the widespread use of EMRs that are connected through application service providers (ASPs) will encourage more accurate research. He cites a recent study which found that patients who were asked about their drinking habits were more honest with a computer than with their doctors. “That is just one example,” Marlow adds. “As usage continues to grow, so will the benefits to medical education and to health care.”

Several companies offer different types of electronic medical software. One Regina clinic reviewed more than 100 medical EMR systems before selecting an ASP-based product from Nightingale Infomatix.

Elsewhere, Scot Mountain operates a practice on Vancouver Island that handles billing and scheduling for him and the doctors with whom he works. “EMRs provide huge advantages in patient care,” he says. “In addition to better record management, they minimize handling of paper. That saves time to practice medicine.”

When Dr. Mountain started his practice four years ago, he was expecting to use new technologies. What he wasn’t expecting was the improved continuing medical education opportunities they would provide for doctors and eventually for patients.

“The Internet is already a prime source for continuing my medical education,” he says.

Dr. Mountain has already completed two online medical education programs and uses Web sites such as www.mdconsult.com on a regular basis. “Public health information will get the real benefit. We will soon be tracking flu epidemics across the country. An episode such as last summer’s SARS outbreak could have been more effectively handled if EMRs were in wider use.”

To that end, the B.C. College of Family Physicians is inviting selected family doctors to participate in a study that utilizes advanced EMR tools to improve the treatment of chronic diseases like diabetes, congestive heart failure and asthma. Dr. Mountain points to a huge generational change that he expects will hasten the advent of e-medicine. “When I look at the people just getting ready to come out of medical school, I see a real paradigm shift in the making.”

Robert Wilson (bob@robertwilsonandassociaties.com) is an Ottawa-based freelance journalist.

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