Zambia efficiently tracks medical histories and public health. “Why not bring it to the US?” asks Brittany Allgood of Spectrum, GlobalHealthPR partner in the United States.

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Brittany Allgood

In a land where health care illiteracy is prevalent and disease outbreaks can spread quickly due to poor environmental and sanitation conditions, how do you efficiently document individual medical histories and monitor public health?

In Zambia, health care institutions are using innovative technology to track and cater to health care needs. SmartCare – conceived in 2003 and developed by Zambia’s Ministry of Health and the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention – is an electronic health record (EHR) system designed with local challenges in mind.

How does it work?aaa

Similar to loading money onto a D.C. Metro SmartTrip card, medical personnel can load a patient’s health care records onto a SmartCare card to be taken home for safe keeping. Records include personal information about illness, prescriptions, lab results and more, and data analysis of records can reveal trends in the spread of disease.

The SmartCare system is designed to function in areas with minimal telecommunication capabilities and frequent power outages. Lending credibility to the system and expanding its reach, the World Health Organization, USAID and UNICEF are among SmartCare partners.

The result?

In addition to aiding doctor efficiency with user-friendly, rapid data-entry capabilities, SmartCare is intended to improve data accuracy and enable cost-effective, confidential, life-long quality health care.

With the benefits to Zambian patients in mind, I wonder how this system can be applied to improve health care in other parts of the world. For example, considering the system’s reliability and ease of use, how could it be used to improve health care in disaster relief situations?

What’s up with electronic medical records in the U.S.?

Even in a community where the average person can complete a medical form unaided, there are benefits to implementing an EHR system. Think about it – how much time have you wasted filling and re-filling out forms at the doctor or dentist office? Are you sure you remembered every detail each time?

We’ve all heard about the Affordable Care Act, which goes into effect on January 1, 2014. We won’t go into the details here, but one program initiative is to advance the transition from paper records to EHRs. According to Medical News Today, many question the ease of use and integration process of this new IT system, and there’s no doubt that others are concerned about privacy issues.

Can we take a lesson from our friends in Africa?

A SmartCare system in the U.S. could address concerns about ease of use and confidentiality of EHRs. Personally, I’d appreciate having a password-protected card or flash drive containing all my medical records and insurance information. If doctors and dentists accepted this form of information transference, it would save a lot of time during visits.

What’s your take on adopting EHRs in the U.S. – an important initiative or expensive waste of time?