So last week I travelled to Washington to lobby for provisions within the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as the ACA. Now I have some trepidation over launching this series of postings on my blog because I know my patients come from a very diverse political background. It’s common knowledge that one needs to be very careful when talking about sex, religion, or politics, but I’ve never been one to keep my mouth shut about things I believe in, so why start now!
I’ve always had a tough time deciding what political party to affiliate myself with. I’m either a conservative democrat, or a liberal republican, and I’ll admit that my stance changes based on which candidates are taking on the issues I feel most passionate about at the time. I will also admit that up until 2010 I was somewhat politically apathetic because I saw so many problems within our healthcare system, but very little hope for real change. President Obama’s support of the HITECH act which passed both houses in 2009, started to change my outlook on the future of healthcare in our country. This piece of legislation provided funding to physicians for the transition from paper records to electronic records. If certain quality and reporting measures can be met with the electronic medical record (EMR) that is implemented, there is up to $44,000 per physician to help pay for the implementation. In addition, grant money is being provided by the government to state based regional extension centers to further aid implementation processes for physician offices.
Those of you who have engaged me in a conversation regarding EMR have probably heard way too much about how I believe universal EMR implementation will revolutionize health care and the way physicians can interface with their patients. Allow me to summarize what I see as the biggest benefits of this technological revolution.
1. Physicians can now communicate with their patients through a variety of media including secure email over patient portals, text messaging, and automated phone calls.
2. Patients now have access to their personal health records 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
3. Physicians will be able to access labs, diagnostic images, and ultimately even records that were completed at other facilities anywhere in the country. Having more information in the doctor’s hands leads not only to better patient care, but also lower healthcare costs because tests do not need to be repeated. Unfortunately at this point in time individual physicians can restrict the flow of information by not granting electronic access to other physicians. This results in a cost for the patient because they have to pay for a paper copy, and instead of focusing on the patient, the doctor must reenter all of the information manually. It will be a glorious day in only a few short years when all of your health information is securely housed within an electronic health exchange, because I’ve personally seen how difficult it can be for patients when their doctors don’t grant electronic access of patient’s records to other physicians.
4. Data that is reviewed during a visit can now be anonymously reported to research organizations so that better treatments and therapies can be developed more quickly. In the future, physicians will be able to predict if you have the biologic predisposition to have a side effect from a medication instead of the “just try it and see” approach we need to use now. Ultimately we will also likely be able to practice prospective genetically based health maintenance. This means that not everyone will need the same screening tests with the same frequency. In the future, after a genetic analysis, doctors should be able to inform their patients what negative health outcomes they are most at risk for, and then order preventative testing based on the probability of an illness happening, instead of the “one size fits all” model we use now.
5. There will be a major environmental impact as physician offices and hospitals become “paperless” and use significantly less toner. I’ve been amazed by the reduction in paper and toner usage in the places I’ve practiced that have converted to electronic medical records. Imagine the impact on a national scale!
So for those of you who have been frustrated by the growing pains in your doctors’ offices while this transition is implemented, maybe this will encourage you to hang in there. After 12-18 months of using an electronic medical record, everyone gets the hang of it and the benefits begin. I am very excited to play a more active role in this revolution as I continue to offer EMR selection and implementation services to those health care organizations and physician offices that stand to benefit from my “lessons learned”. One of my missions is to have a HITECH “platinum practice” where the most exciting technological innovations will continue to be implemented so that I can continue to provide FIVE STAR service to you, my patients. J