Federal Push Towards Computerized Health Records

Go digital or miss out on the money.  That’s the message from the federal government.

It wants doctors in private practice to purchase the software and hardware they need to digitize patient records. But the systems are expensive. So the feds are offering some incentives: up to $44,000 for doctors who accept Medicare, and up to $63,000 for doctors who accept Medicaid.

Dr. William Gilmer is president of the Harris County Medical Society. He says electronic records will save money and time.

“A medical office staff would no longer have to go walk across the room and pull a paper chart for every patient visit, for every patient phone call, for every prescription refill that needs to be done and then refile it properly after a note has been put in the chart.”

Electronic medical records are sort of like Facebook or Wikipedia — the more doctors join, the more useful the system becomes. Specialists can email test results back and forth with primary care doctors. The computer can beep an alert if doctors try to prescribe a drug that a patient is allergic to. During a hurricane, patients who evacuate to Austin can have doctors there check their records online.

All these efficiencies could mean millions in potential savings for the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Money won’t be wasted repeating blood tests, x-rays or physical exams. Again, Gilmer:

“The overall cost for society is going to go down, if you don’t repeat the same thing over and over and over again, because one hand doesn’t know that the other hand has already done that.”

Baylor College of Medicine has gone digital. Instead of handing out a piece of paper, Baylor doctors simply zap the prescription straight to a pharmacy. Jenifer Jarriel is chief information officer. She says laboratories now email test results to patients.

“We have saved about $180,000, because we don’t have to print the lab results, put it into an envelope, get it stamped and get it out to the patient and hopefully that address is correct.”

The federal incentives are part of the national health reform law passed last year. To get the money, doctors must show they have the systems and are using them to improve treatment and communication.

From the KUHF Health Science and Technology Desk, I’m Carrie Feibel.
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