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My cat has an electronic health record

I took my cat to her first appointment with a new vet recently and caught a glimpse of what a practice using a full electronic health record (EHR) might look like for human patients, once meaningful use incentives kick in next year.

My cat’s former vet had already faxed over all her records to the new clinic, which I had requested via telephone the morning of the planned appointment. I’m assuming there weren’t any HIPAA compliance concerns, because the vet’s office cheerfully informed me they’d get right on it. Once at the new clinic, I did have to fill out a brief, one-page sheet of owner information that was immediately entered into the electronic health record system by the receptionist.

About five minutes later, the technician called us in to a room, examined my cat, and then entered the information into the computer next to the table. A few minutes after that, the doctor arrived, and treated my cat. She also took the cat’s photo for her own “page” (personal health record, in our lingo), which was timed perfectly:  My cat was licking her lips, so it looks like she’s sticking her tongue at the camera.

I walked back to the lobby, where the billing proceeded in paperless form. In the time I walked from the examining room to the lobby, all the info was at the receptionist’s computer; I signed an electronic pad, and was finished. The receptionist handed me a printed summary for the visit for my records, which I did not have to request.

Roundtrip from the moment I parked my car to the time we were on our way home: 40 minutes.

The vet office said the electronic health record system was new and they were still working out the kinks. The two problems I noticed, however, were not with the electronic equipment; it was communication style. The technician, while friendly, was too busy with the computer to have time to talk to me.

In addition, I wasn’t completely sure the visit was completed. Typically, there is a paper record that is given by the technician in the examination room and used for billing at the reception desk. Without that paper, and without a verbal cue (“Thank you, have a good night” would have been nice), I wandered back to the reception area uncertainly.

Still, the overall experience indicates what might be coming down the pike for human patients in various physician practices. In the meantime, my cat’s next goal is to buy the iPad, from which to monitor her own PHR. That, or eating another plate of chicken.

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