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Online health records a plus for patient care

Doctors and clinics around the state are adapting to electronic medical records - and now, their patients over age 50 can use them, too.

This month, AARP (aarp.org) has launched an online tool to allow its members to organize health and medical information in a single location.

On "AARP Health Record," people can list their doctors and emergency contacts, medications, allergies, insurance policy numbers and more - in English or Spanish.

Dan Harter is the director of information technology for Prosser-based PMH Medical Center, which also serves Grandview and Sunnyside. He says patients uploading their own medical information on-line - whether at AARP or via other sites like those operated by Google or Microsoft - is generally of benefit.

"I think there is value to it...no doubt," says Harter. "Sharing information from one facility to another is where we need to be headed."

The only downside, he adds, is if patients omit parts of their medical history or don't keep it updated.

"If it's not current or well-maintained information, that isn't necessarily a positive," Harter says.

As for adapting to federal and state guidelines on storing patient information on-line, Harter says an advance at PMH Medical Center is underway that will provide emergency room patients with a thumb drive when they are discharged from the hospital.

Thumb drives, available upon patient request, will have encrypted data detailing specifics of the ER visit. Patients can in turn provide the information to their family doctors to make sure their records are updated.

Harter says the ER thumb drive program is funded through a stimulus grant package the federal government made available to get information technology in the hands of patients.

He notes clinics and hospitals, such as PMH Medical Center, are also in the process of getting information on-line so that it can quickly be accessed between providers. If a patient is traveling out of town or needs to visit a hospital, those facilities will have medical history available prior to treatment.

"Our system will be able to share into that central area," Harter says. "Harborview, Swedish, Kadlec, they can all go to the same exchange and get the same medical information."

Whether it's hospitals and clinics sharing vital patient data with one another for optimal treatment - or patients uploading the information themselves - Harter feels technology is overall headed in the right direction.

"The accessibility is nice as our society is getting more mobile," he says. "As long as it (the information) is current it could be a great thing."

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