This article was published today in the Tucson News and answers many questions and talks to the point of why electronic records is a MUST!
Health-info system aims to cut Rx errors
By Stephanie Innes
ARIZONA DAILY STAR March 10, 2009
Southern Arizona hospitals intend to reduce the possibility for prescription errors by providing instant electronic access to more patient information.
The non-profit Southern Arizona Health Information Exchange says it is now working with a vendor — Wellogic — and expects to begin its plan of streamlining and improving patient safety by bringing more electronic medical records into the medical community.
Specifically, the local exchange wants to provide hospitals with electronic access to patients' prescription records, any lab results and allergies they may have. The exchange is also working with 12 local hospitals to ensure that once patients are discharged, there's an electronic summary that will follow them to the next point of care.
"This is certainly a step forward — the Southern Arizona exchange is definitely on the leading edge," University Medical Center controller Misty Darling said.
"It's intended to help us know when a patient presents at the emergency room what medications they are on, and what other ERs they have been in. The intent is also that you wouldn't have to duplicate recent tests."
By seeing what a patient has been prescribed, it will cut down on the possibility of patients being prescribed drugs with adverse interactions, exchange director Kalyanraman Bharathan said.
He said patients' emergency room records are currently faxed to primary care physicians. When labor costs are included, the price tag for that can run from $8 to $12 per fax, he said.
"You wouldn't believe how much it costs to fax. I used to run a medical records department, so that's why I find all of this very exciting," he said.
Though electronic medical records are viewed as more efficient and safe, only 15 percent to 20 percent of local doctors are computerized, the Pima County Medical Society says.
A typical Tucson patient will have records in several locations. He or she may have electronic records at one doctor or a hospital but paper records at another office.
And there's very little interfacing of records, so information on the patient's drug allergies, past tests, current medications and other medical history is typically not available — at least not immediately — to emergency-room physicians.
"Technology has the potential to transform health care delivery here," said Stephanie Healy, president of the Hospital Council of Southern Arizona. "The Southern Arizona Health Information Exchange can be a catalyst for change that enhances health quality and services. We also believe through analysis that it can have the effect of stabilizing or decreasing costs."
While many doctors and medical experts tout the benefits of electronic records, the barriers to adopting them — time and money — are high.
Bharathan is hoping his local non-profit will help Tucson-area doctors and hospitals move forward with going paperless. Among other future plans, he expects to start offering doctors an experimental Web-based medical records program for about $150 a month.
"I would personally rate Wellogic one of the top three in the country," he said. "We plan on moving in pace with the community's trust in the system. The first step is to provide critical, minimal information about a single patient when they turn up in the ER."
Currently funded by hospitals and insurance companies, Bharathan is hoping the exchange will also be able to use some of the $300 million that he says has been set aside for health information exchanges throughout the country in President Obama's economic-stimulus plan.
Obama has said he wants to ensure that every hospital and doctor in the United States, "is using cutting-edge technology and electronic medical records, so that we can cut red tape, prevent medical mistakes and help save billions of dollars each year."
AT A GLANCE
Fewer than one in five doctors nationwide has started using electronic records, says a study published earlier this year in The New England Journal of Medicine.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines a comprehensive electronic medical-record system as having at least four basic computerized functions: recording physician notes; ordering medical tests; reporting test results; and ordering prescriptions.
Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at 573-4134 or at email@example.com.
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