By Dr. JudyAnn Bigby and Rick Shoup
In doctors’ offices across Massachusetts, endless rows of filing cabinets are being replaced by electronic health records that give our physicians easy, secure access to lab results and other critical patient information.
With complete medical information at their fingertips, physicians are able to provide better care with fewer errors at a lower cost. Data, unlike bulky paper files, is portable. It can follow you if you change health plans or start a new job. That means medical records from your doctor in Eastern Massachusetts would be available at the touch of a button in a Western Massachusetts emergency room, should the need arise.
Strengthening the technology that supports our health care has the power to save lives, reduce costs and create thousands of new healthcare jobs. Massachusetts, because of our highly skilled workforce and history of health care leadership, is uniquely positioned to lead the nation to a high-tech health care future.
That’s why we are inviting physicians, entrepreneurs and experts from around the Northeast to a Health Care Information Technology Conference at the DCU Center in Worcester May 9-10.
Worcester, the home of the world-class University of Massachusetts Medical School and the proving ground for many life sciences startups, is the perfect host for this event, now in its second year. This year’s event will bring together the leadership of the Patrick-Murray administration with some of the smartest minds in the industry to explore new opportunities, exchange ideas and develop solutions to challenges in health care.
Thanks to programs such as Gov. Deval Patrick’s Life Sciences Initiative, Massachusetts leads the nation in medical innovation and the advancement of technology that reduces costs while improving care. The Massachusetts eHealth Institute works with 2,500 physicians across the state to accelerate the adoption of electronic health record systems — a greater market penetration than almost anywhere else in the nation.
Through the eHealth Institute, physicians have access to financing opportunities and resources to ensure they can fully utilize their electronic health record system to get their patients the best care possible.
The Obama administration has been a full partner in these efforts, making major investments through the Recovery Act to help 100,000 primary care doctors move to electronic health record systems by 2014.
Health care providers who have made the switch to electronic health records often say they will never go back to paper, citing a reduction in medical errors and wasteful spending among other benefits.
Of course, there are real challenges facing doctors and other health providers trying to upgrade to new systems. It can be a daunting task for doctors in small practices to find the right vendors and training.
For physicians in this position, we are working with the federal government to help them access more than $27 billion available through federal authorities to help ease the transition to electronic health record systems. Eligible health professionals can receive up to $60,000 to ease the transition to electronic records. Hospitals are eligible for even more.
Our proactive approach to encouraging new solutions in health care has had results. This week’s conference is about extending those results and making new progress.
Going forward, our approach to streamlining and improving our health care infrastructure will adhere to a few simple principles.
Our first priority must be privacy. Electronic health data is highly sensitive information and the security of any network is our foremost concern.
In Massachusetts, the eHealth Institute is developing a statewide Health Information Exchange to make clinical information even more secure, while maintaining accessibility to providers and consumers.
Second is standardization. No provider’s network operates in isolation, and we are joined by the federal government in our resolve to ensure that all certified health record systems are capable of communicating with one another.
Massachusetts is fortunate to be home to some of the world’s most advanced health care institutions, research centers and technology companies. We are the home of more than 50 health IT companies, employing more than 5,000 Bay Staters.
This innovation has cultivated economic growth and impacted patient care across the commonwealth. And with 98 percent of our residents covered through the nation’s most successful model for universal coverage, we are a national leader in pushing the frontiers of health care.
Modernizing and strengthening the infrastructure that supports health care is good for Massachusetts, good for patients and good for our economy. And it’s a step toward building a better, stronger commonwealth for all of us.
Dr. JudyAnn Bigby is state secretary of Health and Human Services, and Rick Shoup, Ph.D., is director of the Massachusetts eHealth Institute and the state’s health IT coordinator.