Oklahoma Helps Launch Test of Electronic Health Record System

By Adrielle Harvey, The Oklahoman

Jun. 17–Dr. Russell Kohl recognized the value of electronic health records more than two years ago.

Kohl shared his experiences Monday when the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services confirmed that Oklahoma has been selected to take part in a demonstration project that involves using certified electronic health records to improve patient care.

Kohl, who works in a two-physician practice at Green Country Family Medicine in Vinita, said the biggest barrier to getting started with the records is cost. His practice paid nearly $70,000 to start an electronic system, but he “thought it was worth it and took out the loan.”

Kohl said the second barrier comes in the first six months of implementing the system. At first, they actually slowed down the workflow of his practice because of all the changes, but after working through the kinks, they greatly improved the quality of healthcare at his practice.

He said, “patients have noticed a difference” especially in the areas of screenings and the prescription refill process.

Another issue Kohl faced was how patients would respond to computer use during their visits. But Kohl uses a tablet computer that looks much like the pen and paper version he previously used, so they have responded well.

Though Kohl, along with other practices nationwide, is already is using the process, the long-term goal of CMS is to create a system where a patient’s full medical history can be obtained anywhere — an interoperable system. Oklahoma is one of 12 selected “communities” that will pioneer this demonstration of which CMS hopes other practices will do the same.

“Many hospitals have EHRs, but they’re siloed,” said Kerry Weems, acting administrator for CMS. “Can’t leave the four walls of the hospital.”

Background to problem For the CMS-initiated demonstration, the main concern by physicians is to maintain patient confidentiality. Weems said all EHRs must meet Certification Commission of Information Technology standards. He also said that the targeted physician practices — practices with three to five physicians — for this project “aren’t particularly vulnerable” to situations that may put records at risk, such as hacking.

Dr. Michael Crutcher, Oklahoma health secretary, said, “It’s hard for me to imagine that healthcare is not going to be as interconnected as everything else is.”

“Most Americans see more than one physician, so health records are scattered,” Crutcher said. Once EHRs are adopted by all, physicians can obtain “a full medical history in an instant anywhere in Oklahoma.”

Finally, EHRs will reduce medical errors by utilizing e-prescriptions.

Weems made the official announcement to launch this demonstration in Oklahoma on Monday at Robert M. Bird Health Sciences Library on the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center campus.

“You can’t have quality health care without information technology,” Weems said.

Over the five-year life of the project, each participating practice will receive incentive payments of up to $58,000 for an individual practice or $290,000 for a practice with multiple physicians.

Oklahoma was selected in the competition from a pool of more than 30 applicants.

The willingness of Oklahoma to work with the university medical center, the government and other organizations made the state a prime candidate.

“It was the strength of Oklahoma’s application on collaboration,” Weems said.


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Copyright (c) 2008, The Oklahoman

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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Source: The Daily Oklahoman

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