• Yomiuri Editorial

Digitization of Medical Records: Share Information Among Hospitals to Provide Effective Treatments

Records kept by medical institutions are important histories of each patient and indispensable data for the advancement of medical treatment. It is hoped that the digitization of these records will accelerate the sharing of them among hospitals so the data can be used for medical care.

The government has set up the Headquarters for Medical Digital Transformation Promotion and is proceeding with digitization in the medical field. The goal is to introduce electronic records to almost all medical institutions by the end of 2030.

In keeping with this, the government is considering having medical institutions share patients’ records with each other — currently, such records are held separately by each medical institution.

If medical institutions could share information about patients who go to multiple hospitals, it would lead to safer and more effective treatments. For patients transported to emergency rooms, quickly confirming information about chronic ailments and other conditions is also likely to help save lives.

Ninety percent of large hospitals with 400 beds or more have already introduced electronic medical records. In contrast, only half of clinics have adopted the format, highlighting the disparity among medical facilities of different sizes.

Clinics’ slow adoption has been partly attributed to a disinclination they have toward digitization and the complexity of transitioning to a new system. Once introduced, the digitization of files provides clinics with the advantages of being able to immediately access patient data and more streamlined business operations. Unlike a paper-based system, the cost of storage and management will be drastically reduced.

Medical records contain information about patients’ treatments and medications. Consolidating and analyzing such data will make it possible to develop new treatment methods and identify side effects. It is hoped that a system will be established to enable the effective use of patient data for research.

The Medical Practitioners’ Law, among other regulations, stipulates that medical records are to be kept for five years. As a result, there have been cases in which medical records were discarded after that period was over. Some patients with drug-induced HIV infections and drug-induced hepatitis could not prove the harm they suffered because their medical records were not preserved.

The lack of relevant medical records is also said to have hampered the full review of the emergency medical treatment given to those in the sarin nerve gas attack on Tokyo’s subway system.

Seventy percent of university hospitals have already decided to permanently store electronic medical records. Legally extending the preservation period should also be considered.

However, the utilization of medical records poses another issue. Some people do not want others to know about their illnesses, so this information should be handled carefully.

Obtaining the patient’s consent is essential for medical institutions to share records. Establishing rules to protect patient information will be important.

The risk of cyber-attacks and data leaks is also a concern. A situation in which medical institutions’ systems are hacked and medical records are rendered unusable must be avoided. All possible measures must be taken to ensure the safety of the system.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 15, 2024)