Transforming a health record system into one that is more responsive to patient needs is recognized as a critical problem faced by many health systems today. Although patients travel freely among facilities and sites, their records do not easily follow, mainly because the separate clinical information systems in which data are stored have not been built to "talk" to one another. Whereas many other industries - banking, airlines, Internet - have developed ways to bridge this information electronically, the healthcare industry has until recently continued to share paper-based records. This practice creates problems for both clinicians and patients. For example, transfer of information may be slow if a patient is treated by a family physician in one centre and then admitted to hospital in a different city. Clinicians may have to wait to obtain information by phone or request it to be transferred by fax. Patients may be unconscious, under duress or forgetful and unable to recall pertinent health information. Continuity of care may be compromised.
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