Medical facilities are joining the digital revolution. Thanks to a technology-based requirement of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, physicians’ offices and hospitals will use electronic health records.
The Health Information Technology Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act was enacted as part of 2009’s recovery act and encourages health care facilities to adopt an electronic health record system to improve efficiency and patient privacy.
Patient information will be logged directly into computers, rather than kept in paper files.
Grant funding and reimbursements to medical facilities are available through Medicare and Medicaid as part of the provisions of the HITECH Act.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, “incentives totaling as much as $27.4 billion over 10 years could be expended under the program.” In addition, $2 billion was allocated to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology to provide training and technical help to health care facilities as they transition to electronic records.
If medical providers do not implement the electronic system by 2015, they may be penalized.
Initiative taking shape in Basin offices
Local doctors’ offices and the hospital say they already are implementing the paperless system.
Staff at Dr. Prem Salhotra’s office indicated they are transitioning to the new paperless system, while at Dr. Edith Jones-Poland’s office, they’ve been using the paperless system since Jones-Poland opened her office about four years ago.
Hi-Desert Medical Center is well under way in its transition to a paperless system and expects to complete the first phase of “meaningful use,” or what the initiative considers valid, purposeful implementation, by the end of this fiscal year.
HDMC expects the technological transition to cost about $2 million, which it will most likely be reimbursed for, under the provisions of the mandate.
At the hospital, the most recognizable outcome of the recovery act’s stipulation is the mobile computers now being used by nurses.
“We just brought up our operating room module, so the nurses in the operating room document everything electronically … they have computers on wheels,” Cindy Dietz, director of information technology at HDMC, said via telephone Monday.
“We recently put computers in every patient room and in October, our nurses will begin bedside medication verification,” Dietz noted. The process allows hospital staff to scan a patient’s armband for information about their medications. Software will also scan the medication against a patient’s records, indicating any allergies or medical alerts.
The electronic process is expected to streamline the daily operations of medical care facilities, increase patient confidentiality and improve the communication and transfer of information among facilities. It all comes with one hiccup: different offices and facilities may not use the same software, creating the potential for incompatible programs and the need for auxiliary interfaces to bridge the gap.
Technology issues aside, the transition is supposed to reduce not only paper waste, but the margin for human error as well.
“As you’re doing your assessment, it gives you some prompts to ask specific questions to be sure you didn’t miss anything,” Dietz added. “It’s all patient-safety driven. It helps you do some critical thinking æ I think it streamlines the nursing process.”
The mandate will reduce the margin for human error, but it will also increase the penalty for it.
The HITECH Act also increases the penalties health care providers may have to pay if they violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.