Electronic Health-Care Records Could Help Save Lives

Article excerpt

On-again, off-again initiatives to pull the nation's 815,000 physicians into the computer age are on again, and a group of Pittsburgh-area physicians could be on the cutting edge of the latest effort.

For years, health-care economists have maintained that clear, interactive, computerized patient health records would enhance patient safety and cut health-care costs. But only a handful of physicians use such systems.

Now, the Obama administration -- spurred by the president's campaign pledge to computerize the nation's health-care records by 2014 -- is pushing Congress for subsidies that could move physicians from paper records and make digital health-care records a reality.

Last fall, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, called CMS, enlisted 200 Pittsburgh-area physicians in small practices to participate in its latest pilot project. The project is scheduled to get under way this summer and could serve as a model for Obama's larger proposal.

Dr. Louis DiToppa, 51, a family practitioner who maintains a solo practice in White Oak, said it can't come too soon.

It didn't take much to persuade DiToppa, who studied engineering as an undergraduate and embraced technology, that electronic patient records make sense.

His office has maintained electronic patient records for years and was transmitting prescriptions to pharmacies electronically even before Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield set aside $29 million last year to help Western Pennsylvania physicians begin prescribing online.

He's signed up for incentives that may be available through the CMS pilot project and has encouraged colleagues to make the leap.

"God forbid if you keel over in front of Allegheny General Hospital and you're a (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center) patient because they can't get into each other's systems. If you shared the information, you'd be able to reduce the cost immensely," DiToppa said. …