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Things Aren't Always What They Seem

In the mail last week, I received a bronze medal that on the front reads "2018 DESERET NEWS MARATHON 3RD PLACE." For the record I have yet to become a fast runner or a distance runner. I originally thought this must be a mistake. I did run/hobble a half-marathon last year but have never run a marathon. A month ago, I did run in a Deseret News 5K race but did not come anywhere near taking third place. As I further examined the medal on the back, in very small lettering it says 5K and then my age category – there, obviously, were very few participants in my age category. My family had a nice chuckle about the award.

Just like the third-place medal marathon medal I received, in the U.S. health care system there are also things that are not what they would seem.

On the outside, using pharmaceutical advertisements on TV may seem like a good idea to inform patients about medication options for treating certain conditions. However, when I look more closely this strategy I wonder if there are better approaches. A recent Yale study finds that pharmaceutical ads are more confusing than helpful to patients. Pharmaceutical ads often show happy, healthy, vibrant people in them, when in reality the patients needing/taking those medications may not always be in the best of health. Not only can the ads be confusing, but we also have a health care cost crisis in our country, and more than $4 billion a year is spent on advertising for pharmaceuticals. In 2015, the American Medical Association (AMA) called for a ban on pharmaceutical ads, and according to a 2016 Harvard poll, a majority of Americans believe commercials for pharmaceuticals should not be on TV. Pharmaceutical ads are not always what they would seem.

Another area where things may not be what they seem in health care is electronic health records (EHR). After talking with EHR vendors you might believe we have reached interoperability or the ability of different information technology systems and software applications to communicate, exchange data, and use the information that has been exchanged. To patients who see physicians and hospital staff regularly using EHRs to log/collect data, it may also seem that the use of EHRs is widespread and electronic sharing of personal health information is happening everywhere. There are acceptable standards and technology to be able to share clinical data, nevertheless, a recent study shows that just less than 30 percent of hospitals were able to meet four key interoperability metrics. More concerning is the fact these 2017 numbers were up from just 24.5 percent three years earlier. We still have a long way to come and competitive market forces are hindering the ability to share health care data. Every emergency room physician should be able to pull a patient medical record regardless of what system or clinic the patient regularly visits. This is a public safety issue. Promoting federal regulations, artificial intelligence, secure networks and greater patient access are all steps to move us forward with interoperability.

Even though I could easily pretend I won third place in the marathon and give up running, I'm going to continue my personal running and improvement efforts for exercise and wellness reasons. In like manner, we need to continue improving our health care system by increasing transparency so the improvements we are making and the downfalls we are still experiencing can be seen for what they really are.

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