Tracking Referents in Electronic Health Records

Studies in Health Technology and Informatics 116:71–76 (2005)
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Electronic Health Records (EHRs) are organized around two kinds of statements: those reporting observations made, and those reporting acts performed. In neither case does the record involve any direct reference to what such statements are actually about. They record not: what is happening on the side of the patient, but rather: what is said about what is happening. While the need for a unique patient identifier is generally recognized, we argue that we should now move to an EHR regime in which all clinically salient particulars – from the concrete disorder on the side of the patient and the body parts in which it occurs to the concrete treatments given – should be uniquely identified. This will allow us to achieve interoperability among different systems of records at the level where it really matters: in regard to what is happening in the real world. It will also allow us to keep track of particular disorders and of the effects of particular treatments in a precise and unambiguous way. We discuss the ontological and epistemological aspects of our claim and describe a scenario for implementation within EHR systems.

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Barry Smith
State University of New York, Buffalo


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