Doctors Gone Digital

Going in for a checkup with your physician? You’ll probably see a screen, too.

WALSENBURG, CO - AUGUST 05: Office Manager Christy Forsyth unloads doctors notes to be inserted into medical files at the Spanish Peaks Family Clinic on August 5, 2009 in Walsenburg, Colorado. The Spanish Peaks Regional Health Center, which treats rural residents from throughout southern Colorado, plans to move to an electronic health records system before the end of 2010. Administrators say they expect the costs of upgrading the system will eventually be recovered through federal funds, as part of the overhaul of the nation's healthcare system.
National Journal
Clara Ritger
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Clara Ritger
May 19, 2014, 8:05 p.m.

Scores of fil­ing cab­in­ets con­tain­ing thou­sands of pa­tient med­ic­al re­cords are dis­ap­pear­ing in­to the cloud.

Use of elec­tron­ic health re­cords sys­tems in doc­tors’ of­fices has doubled in re­cent years, ac­cord­ing to a new re­port re­leased Tues­day by the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion.

In 2012, 72 per­cent of of­fice-based phys­i­cians re­por­ted us­ing elec­tron­ic health re­cords, up from 35 per­cent in 2007, the CDC says.

The re­port finds that ad­op­tion of elec­tron­ic health re­cords was high­er among young­er phys­i­cians com­pared with older phys­i­cians, among primary-care phys­i­cians rather than spe­cialty doc­tors, and among lar­ger prac­tices than smal­ler.

This di­git­al re­volu­tion among doc­tors is driv­en in part by the stim­u­lus bill, which cre­ated a sys­tem for in­cent­ive pay­ments to Medi­care and Medi­caid phys­i­cians who could use elec­tron­ic health re­cords to im­prove pa­tient care.

While there’s plenty of an­ec­dotes of pa­tients ir­rit­ated by their doc­tors look­ing at a screen dur­ing their ap­point­ment, early evid­ence shows us­ing elec­tron­ic health re­cords can im­prove health out­comes. On­line sys­tems can re­mind phys­i­cians when pa­tients are due for vac­cin­a­tions and pre­scrip­tion re­fills, as well as of­fer a com­plete snap­shot of the pa­tient’s health his­tory so that doc­tors can make more in­formed de­cisions about treat­ment.

The Of­fice of the Na­tion­al Co­ordin­at­or for Health In­form­a­tion Tech­no­logy is help­ing guide im­ple­ment­a­tion of the Hitech Act re­forms. Led by Kar­en De­Salvo, the of­fice is cur­rently nav­ig­at­ing the pro­cess of get­ting dif­fer­ent elec­tron­ic health sys­tems to talk to each oth­er — a pro­cess known as in­ter­op­er­ab­il­ity.

“We have made im­press­ive pro­gress on our in­fra­struc­ture, but we have not reached our shared vis­ion of hav­ing this in­ter­op­er­able sys­tem where data can be ex­changed and mean­ing­fully used to im­prove care,” De­Salvo said at a re­cent health in­form­a­tion-tech­no­logy con­fer­ence.

With elec­tron­ic health re­cords sys­tems be­ing put to use in thou­sands of doc­tors’ of­fices na­tion­wide, the next step is to be able to trans­fer pa­tient data across sys­tems, al­low­ing pa­tients with com­plex con­di­tions to share their med­ic­al in­form­a­tion with spe­cialty doc­tors and hos­pit­als.

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