A case for electronic health records

For over a decade federal health officials have been working with healthcare providers to establish electronic patient health records as an industry standard of easily accessible paperless files.  The government has sweetened the initiative by opening up $27 billion in financial incentives for the healthcare industry to make this switch.  However, the cost and time lost in training staff, purchasing in house digital management systems, and the lost hours scanning sorting electronic files has slowed a process that will soon be unavoidable.

It the Louisville Metro area, local doctors’ groups and hospitals have embraced the change, knowing full well that eventually, electronic patient histories will soon be required by law. In the case of medical records, it can be a tremendous burden on staff to keep up with all of the paper.

According to Nancy L. O’Brien, CPA, CFO/Controller, John-Kenyon American Eye Institute, there are “tens of thousands of paper files.”  Waiting for a requested file from another office can take days.

John-Kenyon American Eye Institute will soon be transferring the paper files into an offsite storage database for medical records.  Once the files are electronic, the charts can be pulled in a matter of minutes.

“Medicare and Medicaid are driving it. The federal government requires data to be filed electronically in order to be reimbursed,” said Tony McEwen, president of Louisville based File Management Pros, a secure file storage, digitizing, and shredding provider that serves locally as well as nationally. McEwen added that so far, about 80 percent of the hospitals are now digital.

Getting started is challenging because of the hours required by office staff to type in the data and the amount of space it occupies on the computer. For example, a mammogram can be as large as 12,000 kB of space. Another hurdle is that some records from as recent as 2010 are still on paper and most electronic systems begin with today’s records without very much room for the history of the patient.

Clyde Melton, Manager of Diagnostic Imaging at Harrison County Hospital in Southern Indiana, explained that when their new hospital was built in 2006, records were transferred to a digital format.

The transfer has been seamless. “It’s been very easy. We call our provider’s office early in the morning to ask for the files needed for that day, and they usually send it within an hour,” said Melton.

In addition, transferring to digital saves Harrison County Hospital money on film and space. Before the transfer, the hospital had more than 25,000 x-ray jackets.  The patients are happier too, because instead of carrying a bulky x-ray jacket home, they now receive their information on a disk.

There are a variety of options when choosing which online option is a perfect fit. File Management Pros offers VaultView, an online system for storing and organizing files of all professions.

“It allows us to take records in mass quantity or on demand only. If they want all of a patient’s information, we can put all of that on a web-based server,” said McEwen. Our data center is located in Indianapolis and stores information from companies nationwide.

“Once the information is online, only the healthcare providers who have access can look up the information from any workstation in the office. When they need to have an older record merged in with current information, it can all be done online,” said McEwen.

Digital scanning technology by services providers allow medical staff to retrieve a patient’s online record and look at particular information separately, such as billing, X-rays, lab results or doctor notes.  In addition, online tools allows for fluid communication between doctors, specialists and hospitals.

Some health providers, such as the staff at John-Kenyon American Eye Institute will scan the files on their own as each patient schedules an appointment.  O’Brien anticipates this transfer to take a year.

“Unlike providers that will want to access and scan all documentation, we’ll scan as you go because you might only need forty percent of those records. Instead of scanning all of it, let’s save sixty percent and scan those relevant documents needed on demand,” said Tina Durbin, business development manager, File Management Pros.

Melton looks forward to the increased communication between healthcare providers. With everything digital, hospitals and physicians can communicate important patient information more efficiently than before. Mobility is also key because instead of carrying a bulky folder into a patient’s room, doctors can look everything up on a handheld, digital tablet.

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Ben Keeton

Publisher at Medical News
Ben is the publisher of Medical News and focuses on the business of healthcare in Kentucky.
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