By Ann Hohenhaus, DVM
This past week was a watershed week at The Animal Medical Center. With the flip of a switch, an electronic medical record (EMR) became a new part of practicing veterinary medicine.
What is an EMR?
The name, electronic medical record, does not do this system complete justice. It is definitely electronic. Consequently, we have computers in every nook and cranny of the hospital attached to three types of new printers – one for collar-style name tags, one for cage cards, and one for blood sample labels. A paper medical record includes notes about examinations, results of blood tests and x-rays, surgery descriptions, and diagnoses. Our EMR includes all those components, but it goes further.
But wait, there’s more
With this new system, I can order x-rays from my 8th floor clinic computer and the radiology team on the 2nd floor knows exactly what I want – faster than we can transport the pet to radiology. Previously, the patient and a paper request were transported to radiology. The same software that records patient information also orders blood tests from the laboratory or pills from the dispensary. For hospitalized patients, all medications administered by the nursing staff are now requested on an electronic whiteboard and recorded with the click of a mouse.
My personal favorite
Each patient has an electronic clipboard and on the top is a handy little box. Once I figured out how to use it, I went back into all my patients’ clipboard records from this week and loaded them up. I can write anything I want in the box. My plan is to use it like an electronic post-it note to remind me when certain infrequently performed tests are due. In Vivian’s box I put the date for her next iron injection, for Cleo the date her urine needs a follow-up culture, and I added the dates of scheduled chest x-rays for several more pets. One of the reasons both physicians and veterinarians are moving to EMRs is to help them become better doctors, and this will definitely help me.
The EMR allows importing of photograph files, a feature particularly useful for oncologists like me who want to monitor the response of a tumor to treatment. The photographs also help the ER doctors who might not know what the tumor looked like before, but now can click open a JPEG file and see the tumor for themselves. The EMR contains dog and cat diagrams ready for annotation to mark the location of abnormalities found on examination.
Improving the health of all animals
In addition to improving care for individual pets, the EMR will help improve care for all pets by facilitating research. Old style paper medical records cannot be searched for information. Our electronic medical record allows us to search and find all patients with a particular diagnosis or disease. Information gleaned from the records will help us to share information with other veterinarians about successful new treatments. Thus, the EMR will benefit not only AMC patients, but patients everywhere.
Transitioning to any new system is hard work and takes persistence, but with all these benefits, we have entered a new era.
If your veterinarian uses an EMR, some store records in “the cloud” allowing you to view your pet’s medical information anytime. Ask about this feature the next time you visit your veterinarian, as the information could be very valuable during an ER visit.