The government recently set an aggressive timetable for doctors and hospitals to adopt electronic medical records. Financial incentives for updating technology will begin in 2011.
The administration's announcement has spurred a flurry of meetings between healthcare providers and IT vendors to get the ball rolling. This is a major step in transforming and automating our beleaguered healthcare system.
But as these backdoor meetings take place, why are you still filling out paper forms and seeing doctors scribble notes on paper charts? And does it really matter?
In short, yes.
It is mind-boggling that the trillion dollar healthcare industry is one of the last holdouts against automation. Not only are paper records slower and more restrictive to open, share and cross-reference, they are expensive to store in large volumes. But the move to EMR is not just about making process more cost-effective.
Patients have a big stake in this, too.
Converting patients from a manila file folder to an electronic record that is easy to interact with can make a difference to health outcomes. For example a recent study by Kaiser Permanente showed that e-mail use between patients with diabetes and hypertension and their doctors resulted in improved quality of care scores – and a 2 to 6.5 percent improvement in factors like cholesterol and blood pressure screening.
Nine out of ten still on paper
Despite these benefits, 80 percent of U.S. physicians’ records and 90 percent of hospitals’ records are still on paper. One reason is cost – the average price tag for setting up EMRs is currently $38,000 per doctor’s office, plus an additional $10,000 a year to maintain the system. Doctors themselves are an obstacle, too. Already feeling pressed for time and buried in paperwork, they find new systems difficult and time-consuming to master.
Security is a major concern, too. Patients’ worries about the privacy and security of their health records today are similar to the concern people had about Internet shopping and banking five or ten years ago. Consumers need to know that today’s EMR systems and related applications are hosted on secure platforms, with data accessible only by credentialed healthcare providers. These systems must also comply with strict HIPAA and data security and privacy regulations. Together these safeguards mean that patients can gain the benefits of collaborative care, which is driven by physician access to connected and integrated healthcare records.