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The Killer in the ER

“The good news is that you look better than your X-ray,” the doctor says in a joking manner.

What’s the bad news, I ask?

“The X-ray shows that you are in the end stages of congestive heart failure.”

I sit bolt upright on the gurney. My mind races. I am 47 years old. I have a wife and a 15-year-old daughter. I am on vacation. I am 1,500 miles from home. I have come into the emergency room of a hospital in Punta Gorda, Fla., because I thought I had bronchitis. I am dying.

It is 7 a.m.

The preliminary diagnosis was made by a doctor who, even in an emergency, had no access to any of my health records — allergies, medications, known medical problems, or radiology and lab results — in shaping his diagnosis. All of that information exists in digital form, locked away in my primary care provider’s systems in Keene, N.H.

Six years after I wrote this post for Computerworld, not much has changed at my local medical center. Medical records are only available on paper, and sharing them usually requires a fax request. That doesn’t help much when you’re in an emergency room 1,500 miles away. What happened then could just as easily happen to you today. (Click here to read what happened next).