The first electronic medical record (EMR) system was developed in the 1970s, but the technology was pricey and not many doctors used it. By the 1990s, personal computing was more robust. The Institute of Medicine said physicians should be using computers in office by 2000 for better record keeping and improved care. In 1996, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) became law, protecting medical record privacy and security.

“We solved getting computers and EMR into the office,” says Dr. Don Rucker, former emergency room doctor and internist, and current national coordinator for health information technology for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC). “We haven’t really solved how well they talk to each other. Patients still have to move much data on their own.”

Dr. Rucker has been studying how to integrate medicine and technology since the early 1980s. He knows, if done well, technology can personalize and improve patient care, as well as lower health care costs.

"Computers offer us a great way to make health care controlled by consumers... over the long term."

Automation


Patients should be able to access, use and share their private medical data how and when they want.

“The tools are getting richer and more sophisticated day by day,” says Dr. Rucker, whose optimistic consumers will soon be able to access medical information on their cell phones.

He compares the potential of digital medical records to other ways consumer information has been automated, such as using tech to research and buy a car or book travel.

For example, automating patient check-ins via kiosk at medical offices can save time and resources. Real-time digital record-keeping can streamline patient visits at hospitals too, so patients and providers could all see the information as it’s happening.

Empowering patients


Dr. Rucker and his team want to empower patients to take control of their medical information. Ideally patients will be able to shop for services, providers and care by price and provider.

“I think computers offer us a great way to make health care controlled by consumers, as opposed to providers, over the long term,” he says.