A tech breakthrough that shows how far we've come

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

The CommonWell Health Alliance just announced that members soon will be giving patients instant access to virtually all their health data.

It speaks to how fast technology is changing things that this development has gone largely unnoticed.

So perhaps a bit of perspective might help. One of my first assignments as a newbie hire at McKnight's in 1990 was to visit a local nursing home (they were actually called “nursing homes” at the time). It was a beautiful facility: the grounds were immaculate, staffing was more than adequate and most residents seemed engaged. But the technology was pretty basic. All medical forms were being written by hand. Records, such as they were, had to be shipped to a third party for processing. There was exactly one computer in the building. Yes, one. And it was not connected to the Internet. Nor did anyone at the time feel a connection was warranted.

Now to be fair, this was not long after Microsoft Boss Bill Gates allegedly claimed that 640k of computer memory should be enough for anyone (an attribution he now denies ). But by any modern standard, those were technologically primitive times.

Here we are, just a few decades later. And it is just a matter of short time until any person can find and share medical information in an instant. Eight CommonWell members — essentially technology vendors — have committed to supporting the effort.

When up and running, this will allow a person to self-link his or her health records to any location where he or she gets care, and self-query and view the health data.

From an operator's perspective, this means residents can give you near-instant access to just about all of their important medical information. The result is that you will be able to markedly improve care delivery and coordination.

That's a far cry from medical records being stored in paper files. Makes you wonder what the technology will make possible in the next few decades.

John O'Connor is editorial director of McKnight's Senior Living. Email him at john.oconnor@mcknights.com.


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