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Many Hospitals Slow to Switch to Electronic Medical Records

One issue: the need for new computers that can talk to each other

The move away from paper records and toward the computerization of health care has been difficult for some hospitals. Among the reasons: The need for updated computers compatible with electronic health record (EHR) technology, the inability to communicate among providers using different software, and physicians who push back on changes due to unfamiliarity and expense.

According to U.S. News, concerns remain that digitized patient data isn’t getting to the point of care. The Department of Health and Human Services is facing pressure from providers and lawmakers who argue that hospitals and other health organizations are being compelled to do too much too fast despite the perception that they should be well down the road. The department this month issued final rules on an advanced set of requirements to make electronic health information more readily available to clinicians. The new standards are meant to be simpler and more flexible, responding to complaints from hospitals and physicians.

Some hospitals are leveraging electronic medical records (EMRs) to develop novel tools that sniff out problems early, before they turn into life-threatening crises. A sepsis trigger tool, for example, developed at UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco, detects signs of the potentially life-threatening complication. “It basically scans the electronic medical record of every patient for certain signals that indicate this might be a patient who has sepsis and therefore may benefit from earlier intervention,” says Robert Wachter, professor and interim chairman of the department of medicine at UCSF and author of The Digital Doctor.

For years,​ physicians' notes have commonly been dictated or typed and stored electronically with other patient information as opposed to being handwritten into a paper record. That information has typically been off-limits to patients. Now patients are getting the chance to see what physicians write about their care at hospitals like Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston through a program called OpenNotes.

Competition between health systems for patients remains a significant block to free-flowing electronic exchange of patient information. A report from the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) in April found that "some health care providers and health IT [information technology] developers are knowingly interfering with the exchange or use of electronic health information in ways that limit its availability and use to improve health and health care.” Congressional action is likely needed to correct the issue, the ONC concluded.

The big picture of hospital connectivity in the U.S. today is “profoundly negative,” says cardiologist Eric Topol, author of The Patient Will See You Now and chief academic officer at San Diego-based Scripps Health. “There’s been tremendous resources put into this and little to show for it,” he says. “We have a country characterized by information-blocking, where there is a lack of connectivity from one health system to another, and patients are the ones who are collateral damage because of all this Tower of Babel.”

Source: U.S. News, October 15, 2015.

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