The Development and Future
of Electronic Medical Records
Manager, eCleveland Clinic Information Technology Services
Comprehensive electronic medical records have long been something of a holy grail for healthcare providers, and now that they're finally being implemented, there will be abundant new opportunities for one of the pioneers in this field, the Cleveland Clinic.
"The Cleveland Clinic understood that early adoption could put us into the lead, and once we were in the lead, we could work with the government, we could work with the president, and we could kind of steer things the way we wanted them to go," Richard Kinkopf told the OVA at its October luncheon.
Electronic medical records have received a fresh round of momentum recently. They were the reason President Obama's visited the Cleveland Clinic earlier this year. And the giant stimulus package passed by Congress last year contained no less than $17 billion of funding earmarked solely as incentives to doctors and healthcare providers to encourage their implementation.
Digitized medical records have been a long time coming, Mr. Kinkopf noted, with much attendant complication and cost. "We knew it would be a lot of work to implement. Not only did it involve purchasing and installing the software, but we had an entire computer infrastructure to update. We had two different systems running for a significant time." In many cases, it even meant that waiting rooms and other areas frequented by patients had to be reconfigured, to ensure that patient records remain private, as required by the HIPAA law governing patient privacy.
Once digitized patient records are in place, he said, it gives the health provider the chance to do much more. "It gives us the ability to implement best practices…we can do some other thing, like quality control. We can check for allergies. It also helps (doctors) check on drug interactions and side effects." Perhaps most importantly of all, he added, "it also gives us the ability to get connected to patients," who can then directly access their own medical records.
Electronic medical records also act as a carrot for referrals from outside the Clinic system, he noted. Non-affiliated physicians can use the system through a license, which permits them access to electronic patient records for up to 185 days, and often leads to referring their patients to the Clinic for operations and other procedures. "You can almost look at these things as an extension of the marketing campaign."
But the news isn't all rosy, Mr. Kinkopf admitted. The federal government has required that every patient have an electronic medical record by 2013, but it hasn't fleshed out the rules that will govern all this activity. He predicted "quite a mess" leading up to that deadline, with hospitals and medical practices that are unable to keep up likely to find themselves merged into stronger players.
"As in any job, we're going to be required to provide more with less compensation. The government can't possibly cut costs on healthcare without reducing how much they're giving to the hospitals and doctors."
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