The Administration’s Health Care Initiative with Regards to Electronic Medical Records
There are many reasons for the push towards Electronic Medical Records (EMR) by our current administration, among these, to reduce health care expenses via technology that utilizes electronic document imaging. While there are many that support this concept and effort, there are almost as many cautioning us that this is not a simple process and even five years is not long enough to rectify the situation
It is hoped that the adoption of EMR across the US medical industry will improve medical care by making patient information more readily available. Improved medical care can mean a variety of things; from a better understanding of a patient’s pre-existing history via diagnostic records, vaccination records, allergies, previous diseases and pre-existing conditions, to easier methods of communication with other medical professionals for treatment and follow-on care.
Insurance carriers also benefit because recording a patient’s condition and treatment record can be more easily understood via EMR in comparison to hand-written documents. Costs can also be lowered by having a secure central repository of patient records for multiple medical practitioners so that economies of scale can be achieved with regards to patient billing and insurance reimbursement submissions.
Additionally, EMR systems can also help reduce unnecessary tests and treatments because patient history will be more completely recorded and more widely available.
So what are the pitfalls? Even though the goals are laudable, implementation is going to take time due to:
1) In some cases, EMR systems are being used primarily for patient billing and insurance reimbursement because getting paid, unfortunately, can take priority over patient care. Good for healthcare insurers, but bad for patients if not also used to improve medical care.
2) There are few standards in the field so that patient records stored in one medical records system, may be accessed by another. This can even be true with scanned records since, in some cases, they are imported in a proprietary format.
3) There are so many paper records still in use that many healthcare organizations are trying to economically justify importing their patients’ records into an imaging system.
4) Individual Private practitioners, not affiliated with a large healthcare organization, may not conceivably justify the cost of migrating their patients’ records to such a system when the cost of hardware and software might be in the $40,000 range.
Possible First Steps to Successful EMR Implementation
1) Some of the companies that stand to reap the rewards of EMR implementation the fastest and have the best ability to leverage their record systems are the insurance companies and hospitals. In addition to making it easier for these firms to perform their patient billing, they can easily expand their systems to include patient medical records. Using the latest technology, such as Web-based interfaces and viewer add-ons (like our VirtualViewer AJAX), , secure medical records viewing technology can be provided at little cost, and with little or no training!
2) Medical records and insurance companies should create a set of standards to quickly establish communication protocols between systems (ideally use what exists today) and direct all medical record images to be put in a standard format like TIFF or PDF which almost any system can read today. Additional benefits to such image formats would be that by using modern annotation technology, physician notes can be placed on such records as ‘sticky notes’ or other types of annotations, and securely archived.
3) Service companies in the medical records and insurance processing industries could take it upon themselves to utilize existing industry standards for communication, document storage, and document formats (such as TIFF, PDF and Word), so that they can easily interoperate with whatever systems already exist, or come to market. Plus, by using Web-based viewers, they can reduce training and installation issues for their users.
Improving health care through EMR integration a provides many measureable benefits, both for patients, and the organizations involved in providing healthcare. Now is the time to establish some standards to insure that all players can effectively and efficiently communicate, and securely share healthcare information.. Successful EMR implementation will allow for competition and cooperation – which hopefully will result in faster and more successful results for all. Just be warned that this process will not come overnight, but then, patience is a virtue.