The EHR in Our Emerging Future: Linking Hospitals, Clinics, and Medical Personnel to Patient Data

Article excerpt

Ron Hunsicker, President and CEO of NAATP, recently predicted that "healthcare reform is going to be driven by research, evidence, information, outcomes and cost effectiveness." The implication of technology is present in his words.

Fully integrated information systems, electronic medical records (EMR), and electronic health records (EHR) are part of all behavioral health providers' conversations these days. There is little controversy about the EMR, which is the electronic record used within an organization. Many providers already have such a system; some organizations have even developed proprietary systems, because, until recently, there were few software choices available. Most healthcare organizations want to be 'paperless'; they recognize the benefits related to quality, safety, and efficiency. Fortunately, there is greater vendor selection today than ever.

Congress has authorized $33 billion as incentives in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 intended to accelerate the adoption and meaningful use of "certified electronic health record technology" during the next several years. These will be paid out as "after the fact" reimbursements to qualified providers who implement EMRs. The initial goal is to replace the current paper and fragmented computer files maintained by the vast majority of healthcare providers and replace those with an electronic system that includes the patient's diagnoses, medical history, laboratory and test results, medications prescribed, payer claims data and other pertinent data.

The long-term goal appears to be to link hospitals, physicians and clinics via an interactive grid that allows patient information to be called up at a keystroke and transmitted anywhere--the definition of an EHR.

Use of an EHR often spurs much debate in our industry, partly due to issues of patient privacy. Some public policy advisors suggest that if we want to be included in healthcare reform, stimulus money and whatever else is ahead, we need to be prepared to participate in the EHR. EHRs are not futuristic dreams, they are operational now. Although our facility, Fairbanks, is not a participant due to 42 CFR Part 2, we are located in a community using a system that has proven outcomes.

The internationally recognized healthcare information pioneer, the Regenstreif Institute, Inc., of Indianapolis, Indiana, began to design and implement an EHR, the Indiana Network for Patient Care (INPC), in 1994 under the leadership and informatics scholarship of the Institute's director, Clement McDonald, MD. …