Paper Still Rules Patient Records; Health-Information Technology Is Seen as Useful but Costly
Byline: Gregory Lopes, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Few local hospitals have given up paper charts and ballpoint pens for hand-held computers, mirroring a national trend that shows building a computerized database of patients' medical records is a marathon rather than a sprint
Fewer medical errors, early diagnoses and improving patient care are a few of the promises of health-information technology. But often the implementation of a computerized medical system is stymied by the high cost of new technology and an unwillingness to adapt to the complexities of the digital world.
"There is progress being made in health-information technology" said John Glaser, vice president of Partners HealthCare System in Boston, which includes primary care physicians, specialty physicians and community hospitals around the country. "But it is probably not going fast enough."
A fully integrated electronic medical-records system can replace paper records as the main source of patient information. Eventually, hospitals and physicians would be able to communicate with each over computers to avoid costly duplication and quicken response times.
Inova hospitals in Northern Virginia will be fully computerized by mid-2008. The effort to go paperless is halfway complete, said Che Parker, director of public relations at the hospital company, which owns Alexandria, Fairfax, Fair Oaks, Loudoun and Mount Vernon hospitals.
"Right now, 80 percent of our clinical records are electronic. We are working on other areas such as patient consent forms," he said. "By mid-2008, we'll be completely paperless."
George Washington Hospital's outpatient department is one of the small number that has been able to go 100 percent paperless. The outpatient side of the hospital, which employs about 325 physicians, completed the shift to computerized medical records last year.
"Instead of starting from scratch, an internal-medicine physician can consult with a cardiologist electronically by seeing a patient's medical work-up and know the medical history," said Stephen Badger, chief executive officer of the university's medical faculty associates.
Mr. Badger said the electronic system would normally cost about $300 million, but the hospital was able to buy it for less and has saved more than $1 million a year in costs as a result of going paperless.
"There are no more misfiled lab results," he said. "It has created tremendous efficiencies. We've had a positive return on our investment."
The issue of shifting health care providers to integrated electronic medical records has been a steady drumbeat across the country for years, even before the Bush administration set a goal to introduce a national electronic health infrastructure by 2014.
Nearly one-third of private-sector health care providers are still in the planning stage of electronic medical record adoption, according to data from a new survey by Citrix Systems Inc. …