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Monday, July 11, 2016

The History of Health Records

While health records have become big business in recent history, the keeping of health records is actually less than 100 years old. Though today we take for granted the easy access that can provide connections between past and current illnesses, symptoms, and health providers; catch drug interactions and allergies; and provide on overall picture of our lifetime of health, our health information systems have come quite a ways from their simple beginnings.

The Beginning of Health Records

Keeping health records goes back to the 1920s, when medical professionals recognized the need for access to previous health information for accurate treatment of patients.

The concept of keeping and using records to provide better care spread quickly. In 1928, the Association of Record Librarians of North America was established by the American College of Surgeons to facilitate accurate record keeping. The organization went through several incarnations, eventually becoming the American Health Information Management Association in 1991.The scope of their work has greatly expanded over the years, but they started out keeping basic health records for hospitals and clinics.

Records in this era were kept on paper, and that continued to be the case for many decades until the technology revolution started to change the face of health record keeping.

Evolution to Electronic Records

The evolution from paper to electronic record keeping actually took many decades as well. The idea to create an electronic system for health records goes back to the first days of computers in the 60s and 70s. The technology was slow to develop and cost-prohibitive in the early years.

Computers were very expensive, very large, and limited in their capabilities during those first record-keeping steps the 60s and early 70s. It took the technological advancements of the late 70s and early 80s to make the consistent use of electronic record keeping feasible on a large scale.

Early healthcare software focused on very narrow areas and was useful only for specific departments. In the 80s, however, software began to advance and develop at a rapid pace, though it was still lacking an all-encompassing system of electronic record keeping that could connect the access to patient information in new and multiple ways. This more robust integration came with the advent of the Internet age, when networks began allowing the sharing of information that healthcare software needed to be more effective.

Electronic Health Records in the New Millennium


As the new millennium dawned, technology advanced expeditiously in nearly every industry. Healthcare records were one of the areas that grew by leaps and bounds.

New Electronic Health Records (EHR) systems appeared on the market, and by 2004 the government began backing a push to move health records to a new electronic system. In 2009, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law. This law included a provision requiring all medical records to be transferred to electronic systems and 70% of healthcare providers to comply by 2014.

Naturally, the move to widespread adoptions of electronic health records brought hurdles with it, including problems with the security of sensitive information as it was passed through insurance and billing systems.

This was addressed by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which was enacted to provide safeguards and rules to ensure all patient data are handled carefully and securely. HIPAA compliance became a large part of the health records industry, requiring that all healthcare entities ensure that their systems were aligned with the rules.

Health Records Today

From the humble beginnings of doctors’ basic handwritten notes, the health information industry has taken on a new life. Records no longer simply track the history of a patient. Today they provide a vast pool of knowledge that improves patient care and makes the work of doctors easier.

Now there are Regional Extension Centers of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology across the nation, offering support and assistance as providers make the shift to new electronic systems. These systems are continuously improving with the fast pace of technology.

With many providers already working on a 100% electronic system, the handling of security, backup and recovery, and accurate record keeping has created an even larger health record industry that will continue to grow into the future.

This is a guest blog entry.

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