Technology experts outline challenges and benefits of web-based medical data storage

The world is changing with respect to medical records; patients now own their personal information, a technology expert told the GBC Technology Policy and Health Care Committees at an April 20 meeting. Medical records are increasingly more likely to be stored on computer chips and web sites than on paper.

“Think of us as paper light, but we are not paperless,” said Daniel Wilt, vice president of Information Technology supporting Erickson Health Departments and HIPAA security efforts. Improving overall data analysis is the biggest goal in moving toward fully integrated Electronic Medical Records (EMR) and Practice Management software.

“It would be nice to hand the doctor and his/her staff an easy way to access your information, which is back in your primary care doctor’s computer system,” he said.

President Bush has called for an electronic medical records system to be established in 10 years, but as of now it would only be available to health professionals, said Wilt. MedicAlert, a nonprofit organization that keeps emergency medical information for consumers across the country, is working on a subscriber-oriented, transport/access system, but it isn’t there yet.

There is one group that has such a system: residents of communities built and managed by Erickson, Wilt explained. The Resident Health Portal (RHP) provides registered residents numerous ways to play a more interactive role in their own health care. It also provides their families with critical health information, and makes it easier for primary care physicians and specialists to exchange information vital to the resident’s continued health.

“Erickson Health has a strong emphasis on residents having an active role in their own health care,” Wilt said. “A Resident Health Portal allows Erickson residents to use it numerous ways to play a more interactive role in their own health care.”

The RHP allows residents the ability to manage their health information by showing residents their chronic medical conditions; medications they are taking; any allergies; current insurance information; and emergency contact information, said Wilt.

The residents can access the program through any Internet browser, call the Medical Center; send updates by email; or print out their data sheet, write in their changes and bring the revised data sheet to the Medical Center, he said.

Only 12 percent of Erickson Health community residents nationwide currently use the Resident Health Portal, which is pretty good, Wilt said. It’s big around the D.C. area. “If we get to 25 percent, that would be great since there are a lot of people not really that interested in computers,” he said.

Erickson now has a RHP key that fits on a keychain and contains all patient medical records, said Wilt. Outside doctors can just plug it into their computer’s USB port and they can read patient’s health information from a simple PDF file, he adds. This can be taken with them anywhere in the world.

The biggest issue is that many people do not know how to use computers, so there’s a need for training. But computers help enforce data integrity with more fields for information. This was harder to require of physicians when history and data were being handwritten.

Not only the senior community is embracing electronic technology. Kaiser Permanente has been using electronic records since 1992, said Mark H. Snyder, M.D., Associate Director, Information Technology, Mid-Atlantic Permanent Medical Group. In 2002, Kaiser Permanente went paperless with a homegrown Electronic Health Record system, he said.

The firm’s $4 billion effort created one of the largest and most ambitious electronic health records projects in the nation. Kaiser converted 30 million records and began to move to a patient-centric system with this new tool.

The internal support system includes e-mail, staff messages, urgent notices, lab results, and charts available while a patient is in the room. The most important part of the visit for their patients is the “after visit summary,” Snyder explained. Patients typically remember 20 to 30 percent of a doctor visit, so they get a printed page of instructions and can also view them online. “It’s not a souvenir – it’s to make sure the patient and the doctor are on the same page,” he said.

Patients can go online to see medical history, have health care reminders in their e-mail to direct them to the web site, and can interact directly with their physician and vice versa, Snyder said. Parents of children under age 13 can get access to their child’s chart, as well as their physician.

The information should not stop with the physician and insurance provider, but be accessible to hospitals. However, the issues with data change among hospitals can be daunting. The complexity of each system does not interface with the other, said Snyder.

The government and the American Health Information Committee are pushing for standardization of data and widespread use of electronic health record systems – to have harmonized standards like ATMs, said Erickson’s Daniel Wilt.

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