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Benefits of electronic health records outweigh frustrations
e-Reports, January 11, 2010
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Some physicians who are already using electronic health record systems (EHRs) are finding out the technology offers time-saving benefits and facilitates patient safety.

Most notably, EHRs allow for effective point of care for patients. That means entering real-time information into the system in the exam room as a patient provides details.

The process also integrates results of lab work and radiology tests, medications, referrals and follow-up – all of which can be done in the same room.

Fred Rasp, M.D., who is a part of the Lutheran Health System in Fort Wayne, called the point-of-care process very helpful. He can easily read notes from another physician in the electronic record and, likewise, his notes are easily accessible to other physicians who see the same patient.

“The electronic medical record allows physicians to share information, which helps with diagnoses and enhances patient safety,” explained Dr. Rasp. “It’s point and click, and it’s marvelous.”

Patients have grown accustomed to seeing Sara Murphy, M.D., enter notes into her laptop as they talk about their health. The Indianapolis obstetrics/gynecology specialist likes the system but admits it presented a learning curve.

“Patients are used to us entering data as they talk to us,” she said. “They think we are high tech, but there are some things I would do differently if I had it to do over.”

Dr. Murphy suggested spending two to three days practicing with mock patients and entering information as a way to become familiar with the system.

“One has to start thinking in terms of how the computer wants to accept and organize information,” she said. “For example, my system may want vital signs on the first screen rather than medical symptoms. I can’t move around as I do when hand writing onto a chart.”

Aegis Women’s Health care in Bloomington implemented an EHR system three years ago, noted Robert Wrenn, M.D. The gynecologist admits the system’s greatest benefits include medical record portability and prescribing capabilities, but his biggest challenge has been data entry into the computer.

“The physicians here are not typists. We are not data entry people,” he observed. “During the first two years with the EHR system, I spent more time looking at the computer than my patients, and then I would go home to clean up templates. It was very time consuming.”

Now to save time, Dr. Wrenn and his colleagues work with their nurses to input patient vitals and summary information. Then, physicians enter additional patient notes.

“I don’t miss the paper charts,” he said. “The first two years were very frustrating. We all have to learn to adapt to electronic health records.”

If you are considering an EHR system, the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology (CCHIT) can help you. Go to the CCHIT Web site for details.

Four EHR systems receive first government certification

Recently, the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology (CCHIT) announced certification for the first group of electronic health record (EHR) systems ready to support meaningful use and qualify for federal financial incentives under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

“These first four health IT companies demonstrating their compliance with the proposed federal standards are now able to offer certified products to providers who wish to purchase and implement EHR technology and achieve meaningful use in time for the 2011 and 2012 incentives,” said Alisa Ray, CCHIT’s executive director.

Each of the four products display a Certification Facts™ label, which lists meaningful use objectives supported by the technology. 

The CCHIT noted, however, that the ARRA certification component is considered preliminary because the definitions of meaningful use, criteria and standards are proposed but not yet finalized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The final rules are expected to be published in the Federal Register in spring 2010.

Find a list of the newly certified EHR groups at the CCHIT Web site.

HHS publishes long-awaited criteria for ‘meaningful use’
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued two sets of proposed regulations Dec. 30 that define “meaningful use,” and establish standards and certification criteria for health care information technology adoption. 

The new rules apply to health care providers who participate in the Medicare fee-for-service and the Medicare Advantage electronic health records (EHR) incentive programs. 

Physicians and hospitals using EHR systems must meet the criteria in order to qualify for federal IT subsidies under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009. The funds are available through 2015.

Under the proposed regulations, EHRs must:
  • Be able to securely exchange health care information among providers and between providers and patients
  • Provide standard formats for clinical summaries and prescriptions
  • Provide standard terms to describe clinical problems, procedures, laboratory tests, medication and allergies
  • Ensure privacy and security of information
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will provide a 60-day comment period on the proposed rules, which are published in the Federal Register. Find details about the meaningful use regulations at the CMS Web site.
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