Feelings mixed on hospital records switch

By Argen Duncan: Freedom New Mexico

Local health care providers are eyeing a federal mandate to have all U.S. hospitals and medical practices using a unified system of electronic medical records by 2017.
And some are happier about it than others.
The electronic medical records are part of the Obama administration’s health care reform and the first deadline for phasing in the system is in 2011.
Roosevelt General Hospital Administrator James D’Agostino said the systems are more expensive than most hospitals and doctors could afford and federal stimulus money has been earmarked to help. He is waiting for the rules to be released on how to apply for the money.
“I think it’s going to be good because any provider of medical care has access to medical records,” D’Agostino said of the planned system.
For example, he said, doctors could see records for an unconscious emergency room patient from out of town and find out about drug allergies.
“No. 1, it would save on a lot of duplication,” D’Agostino said, adding doctors could see what laboratory tests had already been completed and the results.
Therefore, he said, the system would save time and money.
However, Dr. Lonnie Alexander, an obstretician-gynecologist in Clovis, didn’t agree.
Alexander, also a member of the RGH board of directors, said the technology wasn’t sophisticated enough for the system.
At the board meeting Tuesday, he said his practice spent $75,000 on an electronic medical records system. The system slowed the staff down 100 percent while they tried to learn it and produced an unusable document, Alexander said.
“It’s not going to improve (health care),” he said.
Although D’Agostino said training to use the system would be cumbersome, he thought it could be done.
“Health care providers — we adapt pretty readily to new technology,” he said.
During a presentation to the RGH board Tuesday, Covenant Health System representative David Shaw said he was concerned about security and compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act in regards to electronic medical records.
Friday, D’Agostino said the records could be encrypted to protect against hackers.
Shaw said the federal government has set monetary incentives for adopting the system early or on time and punishments for not complying by 2015. Although specific requirements for the deadline aren’t set, he expects they will include capturing information in coded format, electronically recording prescriptions, submitting electronic vaccination data and providing patients with electronic copies of their records.
“In order for this to work, there has to be a standard code and there has to be an ability for systems to talk to one another,” he said.
Shaw said officials haven’t specified which code to use.
To qualify for financial incentives, providers must meet criteria in 18 months.
“It’s going to be a tough hill to climb for a lot of facilities, I think,” Shaw said.