If you assist or provide support for an older elder in your family, check to see whether you need to help out with that individual’s electronic medical records (EMRs). You may have routinely set up your own EMRs without much thought, but many elder adults have not established or have had difficulty establishing their accounts.
EMRs are now a feature of every physician’s office and clinic. Frustratingly, doctors’ offices use different EMR programs, and most are not compatible with one another. Thus each person will often need to set up multiple EMRs, and add new ones when additional physicians enter the picture — something that can confuse a frail parent who sees several doctors.
EMRs offer lots of advantages for patients. for example, people to sign up for appointments and receive text reminders — much nicer than pesky phone calls. Patients and doctors can add information at almost any time and request renewals for their expiring prescriptions. Reviewing visit summaries, checking laboratory test results, and formulating questions before a new medical appointment is easier for patients, and EMRs offer physicians a clean copy of our medical history to read.
But for all that to happen, the records first need to be set up online. In the case of older and fragile elders, getting started with an EMR often depends on email and web skills — a requirement for setting up accounts — but many elders are not internet savvy.
Recently I’ve spent time recently helping elders complete their EMRs. Each time we sit down together at the computer, choose passwords and user names, check for confirmation messages, and fill out the information or reports. The instructions are not always straightforward. It’s tricky because sometimes elders have tried on their own and locked themselves out, so we must call a help line to unlock the accounts. Help line technicians do not have access to the HIPPA (Health Information Privacy and Protection Act) documents that are on file at a doctor’s office, so the elder you are helping must be nearby and participate in the call.
In the long run EMRs will help patients and their families understand more about their medical care, but people of all ages have some distance to go until they are comfortable in establishing, using, and benefitting from them.