..as reported in ADVANCE for Health Information Executives

EHR Nation

By Diana Olsen

The federal push for a national network of computerized health care records has left many physicians wondering how to make the transition. A new online service offers help.

In the past year, Americans have been bombarded with cries of “EHR now!” from the federal government. Those in the health care IT sector are particularly cognizant of the federal efforts behind this push for a nationally integrated electronic health record (EHR). President Bush proposed a goal of an EHR for most Americans in the next 10 years. But with a high estimate of 15 percent of U.S. doctors and hospitals currently using computerized health care record systems, the nation’s health care system has a long road ahead.

However, doctors and hospitals won’t be forced to go it alone. For fiscal year 2005, President Bush has allotted an additional $50 million in the budget to support the development of regional health information networks. President Bush also appointed the nation’s first national health IT coordinator, David Brailer, MD, PhD, to assist in the transition from paper medical records to computerized information networks.

Among the potential benefits of EHRs, they may help to reduce medication errors, repeat testing, protocol violations and missed assessments. Doctors who use EHRs to see a complete history of their patients’ medical history will be able to provide care based on more information. While all of these reasons are compelling enough to demand the health care industry’s attention, there is also a financial incentive to make the change from paper to computer. It is estimated that a national health information network could save the industry $140 billion per year.

If so much is to be gained from the implementation of EHRs, then why are doctors and hospitals adopting them at such a slow pace? Eric S. Fishman, MD, has an idea: “Doctors are so busy with their practices that they lack the time to study all the hundreds of different EHR and EMR options and implement them.” A longtime proponent of the EHR, Dr. Fishman doesn’t want to see a lack of time stand in the way of the goal of an EHR for every American.

In order to address this problem, Dr. Fishman launched Physician’s Portal in 2004. The portal, which can be accessed at www.EMRConsultant.com, is a national proprietary system that matches physician practices, hospitals and health organizations to EMR/EHR software that matches their needs. The free service allows physicians to go online, answer questions about their practice and get customized advice. The questions cover “a few dozen parameters, including the number of physicians in the practice, medical specialties, budget, existing software and more,” according to Dr. Fishman. Once the questions are answered, physicians can expect a list of potential software programs that match their individual needs. The list is often delivered within 24 hours.

Dr. Fishman and his team of researchers conducted extensive research on approximately 100 EHR/EMR systems in order to provide information to requestors. “Some EHRs are appropriate for one application or setting, but would not meet the needs of another, even if the software is good,” explained Dr. Fishman. Emrconsultant.com will not recommend EHR systems that its research team has found to be ineffective. “Software that is not up to par will not be around for long,” said Dr. Fishman. Health care practices will eventually weed out inferior software, although Dr. Fishman hopes that his service can help speed up that process.

Since its implementation, EMRConsultant.com has already served over 2,000 physicians, hospitals and physicians groups. When asked if those health care providers have seen a cost-benefit to the implementation of their chosen software, Dr. Fishman commented that physician practices often implement EHRs in a staged fashion. They may start by creating EHRs for all new patients, then move on to existing patients. It’s often necessary to hire an implementation specialist and to see a lower volume of patients during this time period. Thus, cost-benefits will not generally be apparent during the implementation phase.

However, once the implementation process is complete, physicians should see a cost-benefit. “At the completion of implementation, all expenses related to transcription, chart pulls and chart storage space should immediately diminish,” said Dr. Fishman. Over time, physicians may see money saved when repeat testing, wrong medication administration and other errors are reduced through access to up-to-date, complete patient information. Dollar by dollar, EHR by EHR, the nation may inch closer to the $140 billion in savings that the health care field is banking on.