Oakland-based Kaiser Permanente, one of the nation's largest hospital chains, is working with four other large health interests to create America's first major electronic health records network.
The records would be confidential, protected under HIPPA as all medical records are. They would, however, be easily transferable, moving with the click of a mouse from your home doctor on the west coast to an emergency room on the east coast.
Ryan Howard, who heads a Silicon Valley effort to modernize doctors' offices, points out most patients would benefit even more in much less urgent situations, like moving from a primary health provider to a specialists' care. The average patient, according to Howard, sees 19 doctors in his or her lifetime.
It's estimated less than 20% of health records are electronic and those records are kept on wildly divergent computer systems which cannot communicate with each other.
"The problem is all of those [computerized] systems don't talk to each other. They were designed to be in walled gardens." says Howard.
Participating heath care systems include Geisinger Health System of Pennsylvania, Group Health Cooperative in Seattle, Intermountain Healthcare of Salt Lake City and Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
Kaiser has spearheaded electronic records, completely reorganizing its 8.7 million patients into a computerized, paperless system over the past few years.