Statewide sessions explore accelerated use of electronic medical records

April 17, 2014

by Marianne Spoon

Medical graphic

With more hospitals and health clinics adopting electronic medical records (EMRs) with the incentive of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, there is a growing public interest in how to incorporate the technology in a way that enhances health and addresses concerns about privacy and information security.

In Wisconsin, what are people's perceptions of the technology and its role in their health care?

To explore this question, the Holtz Center for Science & Technology Studies, the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery (WID) and the Office of University Relations at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are hosting a series of town meetings in public libraries in April and a public panel in May.

Consumers and patients are vital contributors to the conversation of health care and how these technologies can be implemented effectively and for the public good. The town meetings, intended to provide a non-partisan space to discuss and share information about the technology, will be held across Wisconsin the week of April 21 at these locations:

  • Monday, April 21, 1 to 3 p.m.: Platteville Public Library; 65 South Elm St., Platteville.
  • Tuesday, April 22, 1 to 3 p.m.: Waukesha Public Library; 321 Wisconsin Ave., Waukesha.
  • Thursday, April 24, 1 to 3 p.m.: Appleton Public Library; 225 N. Oneida St., Appleton.
  • Friday, April 25, 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.: L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library; 400 Eau Claire St., Eau Claire.

For members of the public to submit EMR questions, contact EMRQuestions@outlook.com or (608) 890-1334.

Larger trends gathered from the library meetings will drive conversation at a public panel discussion on May 9 at 1 p.m. at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, 330 N. Orchard St. on the UW-Madison campus, featuring experts from nursing, information studies, industry and patient advocacy.

More information about the free panel can be found on WID's website.

Catherine Arnott Smith, associate professor of Library & Information Studies and a Discovery Fellow at WID, leads efforts on the project and says EMRs have the potential to improve health care.

"For a long time, only centers that thought EMRs were important would use the technology," she says. "But because people don't stay in one place their whole lives, it makes no sense for one hospital to be able to read your records and the other can't."

But patients' concerns about privacy and access to people's genetic information are also important, she says.

"There is significant concern about privacy — any threat to health IT security raises public awareness. Historically, though, paper medical records aren't always safe either. Anyone could take these files, but it's not 250,000 of them at a time."

According to the most recent data available, Arnott-Smith says nearly 40 percent of office-based healthcare providers and 35 percent of non-federal acute care hospitals have at least a basic EMR system. But 42 percent of consumers in another poll didn't even know if their doctors had EMR technology.