We’ve had it for a little longer than you might think – I had an electronic medical record (EMR) system in 1996 that I could access from anywhere on my PalmPilot. The system was home-grown and the cool thing was that it had a lot of different functions. It didn’t just have our patients’ information – it contained our schedules, linked to referring physicians’ contact information and recommended medications.
Before that, if someone called into the hospital on a Friday night with chest pains, they’d possibly be stuck there all weekend because of lack of medical record access. With the PalmPilot I could be in bed and look up the patient’s office medical record, see that they had a catheterization a couple of days ago at another hospital and tell the ER that the pain was not from a coronary artery blockage and they could therefore likely be sent home.
At that time in the mid-1990s, my practice had to actually convince hospitals to buy PCs so that my group could access our office records from the hospital. In those days it was all just totally backwards.
In some ways, though, things haven’t changed much. The fax machine is still the most used piece of technology in medicine in the US, for example. And while today’s EHRs are more effective than rummaging through a patient’s paper file that’s five inches thick, they can still be very cumbersome and not great at visualization or the user experience.