When my mother Jeanne was very young her family had a wonderful family pet. A collie named Pete.

Pete protected my mom and her brothers. He would hold little Jeanne’s wrist in his mouth as she crossed the street to visit her little friend.

Pete walked little Jeanne all the way to the front door of her friend’s house holding her wrist like that. She’s in her 80’s today, and she can still remember Pete’s gentle touch that tightened ever so slightly if she tried to extract her wrist.

And if Jeanne and her big brothers had to cross the railroad tracks, Pete would stand between them and the tracks until they looked both ways to make sure no train was coming.

I only know Pete the collie through my mom’s stories, but to this day my frame of reference for the word dog is the wonderful Pete.

I6285401 l resized 600 imagine you might have other amazing and delightful dog stories about dachshunds or cockapoos or mastiffs – memories that create your frame of reference for our canine friends, while some of you may also have terrifying or tragic dog stories.

Some of you may be dentists and have canine stories that are about teeth, completely unrelated to furry pets.

The internet, our wise electronic companion, also has many frames of reference for the word dog.

Among the top ten hits of a Google search for the word ‘dog’ were hot dogs and pet spas and Dog Chapman the Bounty Hunter.

For the internet’s search engines and for each of us, the simple word “dog” evokes a unique emotional and mental image.

Imagine an EHR filled with complex, emotion-laden words like ‘dog’ – how challenging would it be to understand the EHR?

How challenging would it be to enter data, retrieve data, and interpret data?

I’m guessing you know what I’m going to say next.

Guess what? The EHR is full of words like ‘dog’!

Words like ‘admitting complaint’ and ‘patient response’ and ‘pain’.

We all bring our own frame of reference to the EHR, as does our wise electronic companion in health care, the EHR!

describe the imageFor this reason, we who use the EHR must educate ourselves in the use of a shared language that we can all understand – including the EHR.

(Proponents for using ‘plain language’ in EHRs must somehow manage to adjust for the millions of ways we can say the same thing with different words.)

Fortunately we have a gift – the gift of interface standards – that provide us with standardized, defined terms that we can learn to use.

These interface standards are sort of like a language, but they are a bit of a stretch because they’ve been developed so that computers can understand them too.

EHRs are here to stay. We need to learn to talk their language – so that we can call a dog a dog and everyone can understand that we mean a dog – like Pete the collie.

Image credit: gbphoto21 / 123RF Stock Photo