TechnoNEWHow many times have you gone to a doctor and been handed a clipboard of forms to fill out before you take your place in the waiting area? Sometimes you have to do this repeatedly, every year in fact, often reproducing the exact same information as you provided the previous year. Wouldn’t it be better if we could lose this antiquated approach to gathering medical information and move into the 21st century?

We’ve all been hearing for years about a future where electronic health records will revolutionize and streamline medical care. Chief information officers from large hospital systems to single doctor practices are in various stages of implementing electronic medical record systems with the hope of cutting costs and improving patient outcomes. The adoption of information technology in the medical industry has certainly been slow in coming, but it is finally becoming the standard rather than the exception.

Many primary care physicians now type notes directly into a computer during a checkup, and wound care clinics keep digital images to track healing progress. Even dental X-rays are often captured as digital images these days. Within large hospital systems and managed care organizations, it can be easy for one doctor to pull up a vast amount of information and history on a person because these organizations use their own integrated systems. For example, if your health care is provided by a health maintenance organization like Oakland-based Kaiser Permanente, there is a great benefit to you and the provider in terms of efficiency and quality of care. As a patient, if you are referred to a specialist, that doctor has immediate access to your history, lab test results, other test results, X-rays, medications and other information that could prove highly beneficial to choosing a course of treatment. How all that information is used by a specific provider has a lot to do with quality of care as well, but it is a major improvement upon the practice of filling out the paper questionnaire.

So what if you aren’t covered by an HMO