Healthwise: Online Medical Records

By: Cheryn Stone Email
By: Cheryn Stone Email

May 12, 2010

President Barack Obama has signed the Health Care Reform package. While his work may be largely done, it's just beginning fora group of experts at Martha Jefferson Hospital who work for patients instead of with them.

"I think this is a really good thing, and I think the government recognizes that part of Health Care Reform means our adoption of technology. The way we use it will be the right thing to do for our patients and for this country, in terms of improving access to patient information," said VP of Information Technology, Marijo Lecker.

That adoption of technology means converting all the paperwork into online electronic medical records.

"If you come to Martha Jefferson Hospital, all of your records are available electronically. So, even if we have a sheet of paper that comes in from another hospital or referring physician, we scan that document so that it is available on our computer system for anyone who has a need to know," said Lecker.

The converted online information will be shared between doctors and hospitals, and stimulus money has been set aside to speed the transition. However, officials warn it won't be an overnight phenomenon.

"As we look to increase technology, is it very expensive, so for a physician office practice, for example, it can be hundreds of thousand of dollars to implement an electronic medical record, and many times more than that in a hospital setting," said Lecker.

There are other added costs as well. People must be trained to manage the data, the servers and the hardware. The change will also bring about new training for nurses and doctors.

"You really do have to change the way you work in a physician office, in the hospital, up on the units, the way your nurses work. It's a true change in how they interact with the patients' chart as well as with the patient each day," said Lecker.

Lecker says the mass conversion from paper to digital documents will be a financial challenge, but added that it will be an involved process that is worth the cost.

"I think the takeaway message is definitely that this is better patient care. It will result in information available to people that need to know, and have it easily accessible to them," he said.

Hospitals nationwide can apply for stimulus money for adoption of information technology, and Lecker says Martha Jefferson is in line to receive stimulus funds.

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