When I was an emergency veterinarian, I would see 2-3 patients every shift who had medical records that I needed but couldn't get. And I'm not talking about vaccine dates or prescription refills....I mean relevant, potentially life-saving information like X-Rays, labwork results, drug doses, or even something as simple as physical exam findings. Some of this is due to the nature of emergency medicine: we're here when your veterinarian is closed. But try telling that to a pet owner who just spent $500 on a workup not 6 hours ago that now has to be repeated, all because those records are not available.
Photo by Dana L. Jackson
This isn't an isolated problem. In 2013, over 15 million pets went to an ER where there is essentially NO after hours record access. This not only leaves pets vulnerable to medical errors, but also costs veterinarians and pet owners billions of dollars in waste and redundancy. There's a tremendous amount of valuable information locked away behind the walls of veterinary clinics that are closed for 50% of the day. Why isn't this information more available?
While there are a lot of abstractions in human medicine about ownership/access to medical records, in veterinary medicine it is very simple: if a pet owner has paid their bill, they are legally entitled to a copy of their entire record. Because veterinary medicine is a "fee for service" business, pet owners rightly expect to be able to access their results. In fact, modern technology has enabled information sharing to such an extent that many expect to be able to access their records on their smartphone. Their viewpoint is, "If I can chat on Facebook with someone 10,000 miles away, then why can't I see my cat's medical record?" It's a good question.
It used to be that whoever controlled information had all the power. But now, with the information age upon us, information is everywhere. It's ubiquitous. I believe that, in the future, people who are best able to SHARE information will be the winners. We have an incredible opportunity in veterinary medicine that our physician colleagues simply don't have. Because there is no HIPAA in veterinary medicine, sharing records between veterinarians and pet owners should be seamless and easy.
At the end of the day, who would argue that we should keep this information OUT of our clients' hands? The technology is there. The time is now.