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Health Information An Expert Opinion: Getting a Handle on Health Care - Frequently Asked Questions

The field of medicine changes rapidly — even daily. From newly developed technologies and research discoveries to innovative initiatives to improve quality of care, changes in medicine can significantly affect your health care. To help you keep up, Discover Rush Online asked experts from Rush University Medical Center about one of the latest technologies, how some discoveries are made and how asking questions can help you get better care.

Q) Why is everyone moving toward electronic medical records?

A) Julio Silva, MD, MPH, chief medical information officer at Rush: Coordination of care and immediate access to patient data are two key benefits that electronic medical records provide to the patient health care team. Using a secure login, every doctor at Rush who treats a particular patient can quickly access that patient’s complete medical history to make the most informed and timely choices for the patient’s care. When any doctor adds information to a patient’s file, those updates are immediately available to all of the patient’s physicians. Electronic medical records (EMRs) can increase patient safety in additional ways. The system features clinical decision support, which provides pop-up alerts, reminders and checks for health care providers, such as a patient’s drug allergies and potentially harmful medication interactions when a doctor is prescribing new medications. 

These are some of the reasons EMRs were on the radar at Rush before they appeared in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Planning for Rush’s EMR began in 2006, and the system came online in April 2007 as part of the Rush Transformation, a 10-year project to build new facilities (including Rush’s new hospital, the Tower, which opened in January), renovate existing buildings and adopt state-of-the-art technologies that will create new models of patient care.

Q) How do clinical trials lead to new treatments?

A) James Mulshine, MD, associate provost for research, Rush University: Clinical trials play an important part in Rush’s mission of providing the best care possible to patients. A clinical trial is simply a way to ask and answer a question about how we can improve some aspect of health care. 

For example, when scientists and doctors at Rush were researching treatments for breast cancer, they asked the question, Could antibodies play an important role in the treatment of breast cancer? To find the answer, Rush teamed with researchers from the company that produces the antibody Herceptin to lead a multicenter clinical trial in which doctors gave Herceptin to a large group of breast cancer patients, documented the impact of the antibody on patients’ conditions, analyzed the results and reported that data — along with other sponsor data — to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The team at Rush then published its findings.

This trial was one of the key trials that led to the approval of Herceptin, which is now one of the mainstays of breast cancer treatment. While we should credit trial sponsors, doctors and scientists with this discovery, I also believe another group deserves recognition: We would never make progress in improving outcomes in medicine without the incredible contributions of patients in volunteering to participate in the clinical trials process.

Q) How can asking questions improve the quality of care?

A) Laco Lane Mace II, MD, internist at Rush: The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, says that patients who ask questions get better quality health care and are happier with their results. Knowing what questions to ask and when to ask them can help you make sure you’re getting the right care at the right time. 

A good place to begin is asking your doctor to explain things more plainly. Physicians can get caught up in scientific terminology and may forget to explain things in a way that is easy for the patient to understand. In addition, I recommend asking your doctor the following questions:

If you have just received a diagnosis:

  • How will my condition progress in the future?
  • What are my treatment options?

If you are given a new prescription:

  • How will this help my condition?
  • What are the possible side effects?
  • Would a generic drug work just as well?

If you’re told you need a test:

  • How will this test be used to diagnose or monitor my condition?
  • What are the benefits and risks of having this test?
  • When will I get the results, and how will they be communicated to me?

Don’t ever be afraid to ask your doctor for further explanation if you don’t fully understand something he or she has said. Your relationship with your doctor should be a partnership with one common goal: to ensure your health and well-being.

More Information at Your Fingertips … Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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