Public/private health systems set to upgrade
Almost every element of modern society has embraced computer technology, except the medical community. That may soon change as new federal funding becomes available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) for upgrading electronic health records (EHRs). Experts say that along with reducing costs for public and private healthcare providers, EHRs could greatly improve the way both sectors work together to protect public health.
Currently, all “clinical messaging,” which encompasses routine communication between different healthcare providers, is handled manually, says Dr. Art Davidson, director of Public Health Informatics at the Denver Public Health Department and a member of the federal Office of the National Coordinator’s Health Information Technology (HIT) Policy Committee. Switching to EHRs would reduce costs related to inefficiencies in the current system, such as repeating lab tests because the results have been misfiled, he says.
It also would improve communications between private medical practices and local public health departments, which could help track diseases and build immunization registries that seek to increase immunization rates for children nationwide. “If there was an automatic flow of data from EHR to the immunization registry, that process would be much improved,” Davidson says.
The ARRA funding could help overcome the primary obstacle that has prevented EHRs’ proliferation: the cost of the systems, which can range from $15,000 to $25,000. That cost is borne primarily by doctors, but other parties, such as labs, would enjoy most of the cost savings. The HIT Policy Committee is clarifying the qualifications that will be required for ARRA funding, and expect to announce guidelines by late summer or early fall. The guidelines will be subject to modification in the future.
“Only 15 to 20 percent of all the salmonella cases are really reported because the system is so inefficient in supporting doctors or clinicians or hospitals in reporting because it’s this paper process. [With EHRs,] there would be many more cases identified, and it might allow us to take public health action sooner [and] in a more organized way.”
— Dr. Art Davidson, Denver Public Health Department