Danger of over-reliance on electronic records

Too many times have I asked patients essential questions about their health, only to be told that they have no idea, or asked "can't you read my previous record?"

Indeed, with systems like the National Electronic Health Records in place, I can easily access their records from government healthcare institutions.

However, what is worrying is the patient's lack of ownership of his own healthcare information, and in turn, his health.

Over the weekend, hospitals in Jakarta, England and Scotland suffered IT problems stemming from a massive ransomware attack around the world (Chaos as hospitals, telcos and schools hit; May 14). Even emergency services were affected. Thankfully, Singapore hospitals were not hit.

All the hospitals and medical institutions I have worked with have, at some time or other, experienced some form of "downtime".

I am thankful that in Singapore, we have robust systems in place, where operations are shifted to "manual" mode very quickly - X-ray/blood tests can still proceed via a separate system, albeit rather slowly.

However, patient records, which have shifted to being largely electronic, are not available expeditiously in the event of a "system downtime".

Ideally, this should not be that big a problem, and it would not be one if everyone makes an effort to remember their own basic medical information, such as medication allergies, chronic illnesses and regular medications. At the end of the day, we are responsible for our own health.

Information technology makes the sharing of complex and voluminous data easy, but every patient should take responsibility and ownership of their basic health information.

Recent events show that systems are not infallible, and provide yet another reminder on the dangers of over-reliance on technology.

Liu Zhenghong (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 18, 2017, with the headline 'Danger of over-reliance on electronic records'. Print Edition | Subscribe