Digital health records, a necessity that hasn’t arrived

Jose A. Vidal
Published in
4 min readJun 29, 2024

This was the title of a very interesting article by Juan García, published a few weeks ago. One of its paragraphs emphasized:

“This lack of interoperability of health data does not only occur between hospitals in different provinces. There are many examples: Primary Care centers (AP) that do not share their patients’ health data with hospitals in the same city, hospitals that do not even share data with other hospitals in the same province, health services of autonomous communities with different criteria that prevent access to medical records, prescriptions that cannot be accessed because they are outside the place of residence, or information that gets lost when transitioning from public to private healthcare. These are all situations that many Spaniards still encounter when visiting a healthcare professional.”

It is true that in Spain, the transfer of health competencies from the central government to the autonomous communities does not help, although I already analyzed the Spanish case in a post on December 22, and the European case in another post in November of the same year. Steps are being taken, but the public sector is far from matching the execution pace of the private sector. Juan refers in his article, for example, to the European Health Data Space:

“The digital sharing of patients’ clinical data is a necessity that the European Union (EU) is urging through the implementation of the European Health Data Space (EHDS), an initiative already backed by the European Parliament and expected to come into effect next year.”

Source: ISPOR.

But let’s quickly review the impacts on economic resources; here are a few that come to mind:

  • Duplication of diagnostic tests: Without access to a digital medical history, healthcare professionals may order repetitive diagnostic tests, increasing costs unnecessarily.
  • Medical errors: The lack of complete and accurate information can lead to errors in diagnoses and treatments, increasing the costs associated with addressing complications arising from these errors.
  • Administrative inefficiency: Managing paper records consumes more time and resources, resulting in higher administrative costs and less time for patient care.
  • Delays in care: Manually obtaining and verifying medical information can delay the start of treatments, prolonging illnesses and increasing the costs of care. You can read this thread of tweets by Jaime Gómez-Obregón about the waiting list management system at this link.
  • Poor coordination of acre: Without a digital system, it is difficult to coordinate care among different healthcare providers, which can result in inconsistent or contradictory treatments, increasing correction and follow-up costs.
  • Difficulties in clinical research: The lack of centralized data hinders efficient clinical research, delaying the development of new therapies and treatments, potentially affecting long-term costs.
  • Higher risk of fraud: Paper records are more susceptible to alterations and fraud, leading to additional costs in audits and legal procedures.
  • Inequality in quality of care: The lack of access to complete and updated information can result in inconsistent quality of care, negatively impacting public health and thereby increasing public health costs.
  • Increase in insurance costs: The inefficiency and errors resulting from the lack of a digital system can raise health insurance costs, impacting both providers and patients.
  • Loss of data and continuity of care: Paper records are more prone to being lost or damaged, which can interrupt the continuity of care and lead to inadequate treatments, thus increasing rectification and prolonged care costs.

These impacts are just a few that support the urgency and importance of implementing digital health record systems to improve the efficiency, safety, and quality of healthcare, while simultaneously reducing economic costs in the sector. This would allow for more resources, for example, to raise the salaries of healthcare professionals, to promote and approve specific laws for sensitive patient communities (for instance ALS patients), to enhance teleconsultating systems, or to ensure faster access to innovation for those groups of rare disease patients who need it the most. I’m sure you can think of more.

There is much to be done, and public-private collaboration is essential for this.

ES version


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Jose A. Vidal