Heart Scare Prompts Health Care IT Crusade - InformationWeek

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8/25/2008
09:14 AM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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Heart Scare Prompts Health Care IT Crusade

It's amazing how one ignores important stuff until it gets personal. But following my 80-year-old mom's cardiac scare over the weekend, now I'm surfing over to HP and Intel to learn about their major efforts to connect world-class computing to health care, and I'm a new-found advocate for getting every American's medical records into electronic form, so doctors know your history no matter where you run into trouble. So here's what happened with my mom.

It's amazing how one ignores important stuff until it gets personal. But following my 80-year-old mom's cardiac scare over the weekend, now I'm surfing over to HP and Intel to learn about their major efforts to connect world-class computing to health care, and I'm a new-found advocate for getting every American's medical records into electronic form, so doctors know your history no matter where you run into trouble. So here's what happened with my mom.I get that call midday Friday, which everybody dreads but you know is coming eventually. "Your mother is fine, but. . ." My first thought was, I didn't know my Dad knew how to call me on my cell phone. Then, of course, it's "oh, my God."

Then it was off to the hospital, where the situation remained foggy for a long time. When you get into a medical setting, the oddest thing about it, at least to a tech type, is how things change at a moment's notice. That's all the more confusing because, every single thing a medical professional tells you, they tell you with dead certainty as if it's the stone-cold truth. And then they'll tell you something 180-degrees different an hour later. ("But I thought you just said?...")

So first she'd had a heart attack, then she hadn't, then she'd had some kind of...I'm not sure, it sounds like they settled on something between those extremes. Both? Neither?

I guess it wasn't all that certain to them what was going on, though fluid backing up into the lungs is never a good thing. So they said they were going to do a cardiac catheterization, and they'd see for sure what the deal was.

Wait here and we'll be back in a hour or so, they said, which is both comforting and scary at the same time. (Actually, they were actually really compassionate, though clearly in the wait-and-see mode.) They also kept commenting on how good she looked for an 80-year-old, which I took to be a good sign.

Turns out we couldn't have prayed for a better outcome (and I don't pray, except when my plane hits turbulence or a tooth hurts really bad). She had a 90% blockage in one coronary artery, into which they inserted a stent to keep it open. (I asked the cardiologist how is it that only one artery was bad and the other 2 -- or is it 3? -- were fine. "Single-artery disease" was his answer. QED!)

So now she's fine -- she actually didn't have a heart attack -- and is on track to live 'til 100, which is my script and I'm sticking to it. (Though if I'm not careful, she'll outlive me.)

Now that I've calmed back down, I'm on this minicrusade about electronic medical records. The thing to remember here is that there's a lot of important work to be done, but the way things have been set up, legislatively speaking, we're not properly positioned to do them. I'm speaking of course about HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

This bill, which most of us know only through the useless paperwork we're forced to sign at our doctors, is focused on enabling insurance portability. That's one key element of getting everybody's medical records online, but it's not enough.

Interestingly, since health care is perceived as so tied up among insurance companies and government, it turns out that private industry will probably be the real drivers of the new age of enterprise health care, which is coming. Intel several years back set up a separate business unit to focus solely on health care ( check it out here) and HP also has a major health care operation.

I do believe there needs to be more advocacy for a unified online electronic medical records. What happens when you're struck suddenly with an unforeseen emergency? What if you're in some far-flung city? Or in an accident, and not in any shape to tell the EMTs what drugs you're allergic to. Most of us don't wear those bracelets, you know.

My final takeaway is, no one except the patient ends up getting much sleep during these family emergencies, though in this case maybe it had something to do with serially sucking down Diet Cokes all day.

What's your beverage of choice? Leave a comment below or drop me a line at [email protected].

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