A nationwide health care records network is getting closer to becoming reality. In 2009 the US Government set up a system of incentives as part of the Recovery Act to encourage health care providers to convert to electronic medical records systems. The first of those incentive payments will be issued within the next six months and we will find out just how effective the Act has been in converting health care providers to electronic means of documentation.
Prior to the Recovery Act, just 17% of health care providers and 12% of hospitals were on electronic systems. The problems with paper records were many, including susceptibility to loss or damage, lack of ability to transfer information between providers, and incorrect prescriptions being written. The new digital system proposed by the government would rid the medical system of all of these issues and hopefully help medical staff to be more efficient.
Initially, it seemed that many medical personnel were hesitant to adopt electronic records, primarily citing cost and possible privacy issues as their main concerns; however it now seems the tide has turned. Although no specific adoption numbers are known, the Office of National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONCHIT) reports that 74% of hospitals surveyed say that they are planning to invest in health information exchange services and ONCHIT has commitments from 100,000 rural doctors to adopt the system, which is significant because rural doctors had been viewed as the toughest segment to convert.
The electronic health record business is taking off, which in turn is causing costs to come down and making programs easier to use. Many systems available now even come with Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPads for doctors to take into each room. Now that it seems the program is being widely adopted, ONCHIT is turning its focus to communication. CNNMoney quotes former ONCHIT director David Blumenthal who said, “The challenge is that you can become a meaningful user by yourself, but it’s a team sport. You can’t share information without collaboration.”