For years, there has been talk of the world becoming “paperless” and, in many ways, it has. We read our newspapers and magazines online, download ebooks without setting foot in the library and use email and texting instead of going to the post

office.

Your health records are also becoming digital. When you go to the doctor’s office, your laboratory reports, prescriptions, treatments, cat scans, MRIs, etc., all become part of your medical record. More and more providers are using electronic medical records (EMRs) to store and organize this data. Your medical records may be stored on a computer or online and be owned by your medical provider or the health system.

Why is this happening and what does it mean to you?

EMRs came about as part of a bigger initiative led by the United States Department of Health and Human Services to computerize health information. Both former President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama believe EMRs are important and have encouraged their use. Many believe EMRs can improve patient health care.

Here are some of the benefits of Electronic Medical Records, which can:

• Reduce or prevent medical errors. Because this data is computerized, errors caused by poor handwriting can be reduced. Drug interactions and allergies to medication can be spotted more easily by your health care provider.

• Decreasing healthcare costs. EMRs can prevent duplication of imaging and laboratory tests and reduce expensive paperwork.

• Preventing delays in treatment. With EMRs the health care team can quickly find information. Communication among the team is better and treatment is timely.

• Reducing wait times for office visits. You may not need to fill out health forms every time you visit your provider and they will have an easier time finding your information.

• Improving communication between you and your provider. When your provider has immediate and complete access to your information, your questions can be answered, your prescriptions filled and your calls returned in a timely manner. EMRs also have a recap of your visit with detailed instructions for you to follow.

• Continuity of care. Complex diseases such as cancer can require numerous tests and treatments over a lengthy period of time. EMRs can make sure you continue to get the care you need. For example, your health care team can track treatments, the doses and the timing to avoid, detect and or manage long-term side effects.

• Privacy. Medical information and records are protected under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). With some exceptions, this act states that patient medical information cannot be shared unless a patient gives their permission.

• Get it. You can ask to see or get a copy of your medical record. Check it. You can ask to change any wrong information and add anything you think is missing. Know who has seen it. Ask how your information is used and shared. You can have certain information not shared.

The above recommendations were from the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the U.S. department of Health and Human Services. For more information, visit cancernepa.org.

The Northeast Regional Cancer Institute is a nonprofit, community-based agency working to ease the burden of cancer in Northeastern Pennsylvania.  Focusing on community and patient services, hospital and practice support services and survivorship, 100 percent of Cancer Institute resources are invested in this region.  For more information about the cancer institute, visit cancernepa.org or call (800) 424-6724.