Switch is four years ahead of schedule
President Barack Obama has decreed that all medical files be electronic by the year 2013.
Mercy Medical Center Merced is ahead of the game by about four years.
By next week, the local hospital will have all its medical records on computers. Loretta Stuart-Edgerton, director of the health information department, said that with the old handwritten charts, data were input by hand and could only be looked at by one person at a time.
“We had three different storage areas for the charts,” Stuart-Edgerton said. When the crossover to electronic records is complete, there will only be one offsite, long-term storage site.
Shawn Withrow, who is in Merced helping Mercy with the transition, is an employee of Catholic Healthcare West, Mercy’s parent company. He said the new way of putting records on computers will be cost effective for the hospital.
“There will be quicker retrieval and more than one person at a time can look at a medical record,” Withrow added.
For people worried about many sets of eyes looking at their medical records, Withrow said that is exceptionally hard to do. If anyone is caught, it’s a fine and jail time.
Recently, Farrah Fawcett’s medical records from UCLA were leaked to tabloids. The specialist who leaked Fawcett’s records pleaded guilty to a felony charge of violating federal medical privacy laws. The specialist, Lawanda Jackson, died of cancer in March before she could be sentenced.
“It’s a fireable offense,” said Stuart-Edgerton. “Mercy’s human resources has policies in place about what would happen if a person does look at medical records.”
Carol Caceres, a systems analyst for medical information at Mercy, said putting records on computers will make it easier for physicians. “Now multiple doctors can look at a chart at the same time, and discuss it,” Caceres said.
Although doctors notoriously oppose change, especially when it comes to computers, Caceres said local physicians have been satisfied with the change.
“A lot of our doctors also go to Emanuel Medical Center (in Turlock) and Children’s Hospital Central California,” she said. “Those hospitals already have electronic files. Plus, we are holding classes for doctors to learn the system.”
The staff in medical records has put about 90 percent of the charts online already, and everyone seems to be pleased with the new system.
“Now doctors can log on in their own office,” said Stuart-Edgerton. “Saves them a trip down here.”
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