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Government Encourages Switch to Computerized Medical Records

Government Encourages Switch to Computerized Medical Records

The US government is encouraging doctors and hospitals to ‘go green’ and use digital medical records. Computerized records have so far been shown to be a valuable asset in patient care, giving doctors armed with tablet computers (I guess we’re entering the age of the iPad doctor) immediate access to patients’ medical records (such as immunization histories), with a reduction in medical error and repeated tests. The 2009 economic recovery package allocated some $27 billion to doctors’ offices and hospital as an incentive for switching to digitized records, but, with the new Republican-majority Congress looking for budget cuts, those monies could be on the chopping block.

Aside from quicker, more ready access to patients’ medical histories, digitized medical records offer other benefits, as the data can be ‘mined’ and analyzed to ‘find what treatments are most effective or to get early warnings on dangerous drug interactions.’

As today’s New York Times says, only 30 percent of physicians currently use digitized records and mostly those working for large health care providers such as Kaiser Permante and the Mayo Clinic. With most doctors in small practices, they simply don’t have the financial and technical support to make the costly change to computerized records.

The Obama administration, working with health professionals and the technology industry, initiated a program last year under which doctors can receive incentive payments of up to $44,000 for switching to digitized medical records and following certain criteria to determine that the records are being used ‘meanincful[ly].’ The program begins this year, and participants must follow requirements for using the records to report and share health information which increase in stages through 2015. Thereafter, doctors who do not meet the ‘use and reporting rules’ will be charged with penalty payments from Medicare and Medicaid.

The change is not expected to be either quick or painless:

“Islands” of such learning networks already exist, notes Charles P. Friedman, chief scientist in the federal health information technology office. By mining its patient data, Kaiser, for example, was first to identify a link between the pain-relief drug Vioxx and a higher risk of heart failure, well before Merck pulled the drug off the market in 2004.

Yet the road to a national computer-enabled learning system, specialists agree, promises to be long. A major obstacle is that so many doctors, especially in small practices, are leery of technology they see as needlessly hard to use and time-consuming. “Doctors don’t want to become clerks,” says Dr. Isaac Kohane, a health technology specialist at the Harvard Medical School.

And complex technology- designed for big health groups, not small practices- could well increase medical mistakes, specialists say.

As the Obama administration’s national coordinator for health information technology, Dr. David Blumenthal, notes, the intent is to ‘gradually build consensus on policy and technical standards rather than issuing edicts’ about when and how doctors and hospitals use computerized medical records.

Health policy analysts have noted that they think it unlikely that the legislation to encourage adoption of computerized medical records will be overturned. Certainly when we have been consulting with our son Charlie‘s neurologist about whether his medications are helping are not, it would be more than helpful for the doctor to have detailed information about his medical history, medication dosages, behaviors issues, and more.

Should this be the kind of program our government should be investing in right now?

 

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68 comments

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2:24PM PST on Mar 4, 2011

In answer to the last question - NO. I'm like many here who find the government invasive enough. I'd rather not make it too easy for them to pry into my life.

4:46AM PST on Mar 1, 2011

One more thing; a hospital can tell when an employee looks at anyone's record. Once you log in the system, everything you do is recorded. Believe me, I personally know that if information is shared when it shouldn't be, you will be fired. HIPPA Laws are definitely enforced.

9:53PM PST on Feb 28, 2011

Electronic medical records are inevitable whether we like it or not. We need to prepare ourselves for potential errors and know that we are entitled to submit corrections when errors are found. There are hackers but we also need to be prepared for the 'nosey former co-worker' who learned you were hospitalized in the facility where she works and looked up your medical record and gave every detail to everyone you both know. Do not count on HIPAA to come to your aid. Maybe the hospital will do more than give this person a slap on the wrist or maybe not. These are the things that scare me the most about electronic records. Albeit altered, this is a true scenario and one that we cannot control.

6:27PM PST on Feb 28, 2011

Just think when medical records are electronic, TSA can look at them while doing your body scan.

1:23PM PST on Feb 28, 2011

great idea In Australia have been doing so for at lest 10 years

10:35AM PST on Feb 28, 2011

I'm wary about hackers getting my info.

10:04AM PST on Feb 28, 2011

Our hospital has already started the training to go paperless and put everything on computized files. Tedious to say the least but ongoing it is. To say that hackers can't get hold of a patients file and use their ID number is bogus as we all know it can happen. Howbeit, the government is requiring it so there is no backing out. Some Dr's like it, most don't, and still require a small print out of patients basic info to look over istead of accessing the complete file, for now. Mistakes are bound to happen.
All employees medical records can be accessed quite easily and from that, who knows if one will be targeted for dismissal due to their underlying conditions. Woe to the older generation of employees as we are at a much higher health risk and will eventually be weeded out. But hire those who are young that pop out babies left and right, pay for the babies care, their maternity leave and their personal care, the cost of replacing said person while on leave and they say it's cheaper in the long run.
Yes, the new generation of health care has started and the picture/future doesn't look all that promising.

9:59AM PST on Feb 28, 2011

@Ernie Miller -- Ernie, your medical records have -always- been available for research. I work in a medical center, and our faculty routinely go through old hard-copy medical records for patients who have certain types of diseases and review those records for treatments and outcomes. This has ALWAYS been a part of the medical process, and it is how new treatments are analyzed and developed. The only difference now is that with electronic medical records, it is easier to screen the records and only get those records that are really relevant to the research. These studies are ALWAYS overseen by a regulatory body or research committee to make sure that patients' rights and privacy are protected during the research process.

Most people, when they enter the hospital, sign a Universal (or Front Door) consent, that allows that the information about their illness (and sometimes leftover tissue from their procedures) will be available for research purposes, after the fact (retrospectively). These studies are reviewed and renewed annually, and audited to make sure that they're handled with the utmost consideration for the privacy of the participants.

If a researcher knows that they'll collect certain information up front, the patient is provided with an Informed Consent to provide access to that material in real-time. The point, though, is that this kind of research ISN'T new, and isn't really related to electronic medical records -- it has been going on since the dawn of medicin

9:56AM PST on Feb 28, 2011

Thank you

8:56AM PST on Feb 28, 2011

I like my record being available to my DR. he is computerized but I am apposed to them being available for reasurch or any one else to dig thru. seems like an invasion of privacy.

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