How Doctors Will Use Their Stimulus Money


Energy has been getting a huge amount of play in President Obama’s stimulus package. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t look at another massive piece of the plan, namely, the modernization of the American healthcare system. It’s getting $189 billion of the total $787 billion. So, what does that mean, and where’s the money going to go?

One element of modernization is to turn paper records into ones and zeroes, with great cost savings expected in the future. It’s a costly proposition to implement, though, which is why many doctors have resisted the switch for years. We’re talking up to hundreds of thousands of dollars per doctor. Included in the stimulus package is some money to make the move less painful.

Sometimes, the decision to switch to e-records is made for the doctor. Take the case of Dr. Regina Benjamin of rural Bayo La Batre in Alabama. Her family practice that treats the poor and uninsured was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. She was drying out her old paper records and mulling a move to computerized record-keeping, when the partly refurbished clinic burned down.Then it was time. She’s been using electronic records for about two years now, and says “toughest part would be training my gray-haired, 20-year employees how to use a computer when they did not know what a mouse or pointer was.

She says it’s invaluable for improving health care.“When a patient or pharmacy calls at night or on a weekend, I do not have to rely on memory. I can access the chart from any computer, at home, from the hospital, from my hotel room when traveling.

This prevents errors and I can give better care. I can also quickly look at trends and patterns, pick up things earlier than if I had to look thru paper charts.” She was able to fund her conversion through donations and foundation support.

Traveling through Cambridge, Ohio I found a doctor’s office that started using the NextGen electronic system. Dr. Patrick Goggin converted to EMRs about five years ago. It cost about $300,000 to convert. Dr. Goggin did it because of the ease of e-prescriptions (e-mailing prescriptions to patients’ pharmacies) and the shift to “patient-centered” medical care (where a central database lives to serve multiple doctors). Though it’s apparently sometimes hard to retrieve outside information, another tough problem can be converting old paper records. Dr. Goggin found they were only able to transfer the previous six months of records, on average, because by the time they entered everything, it would be obsolete. Dr. Goggin also says it allows him to call up a patient’s record from the road and provide instant care. Another doctor in the office, Dr. David Ray just recently came to the practice, accompanied by his room of thousands of paper files. “Advantages are not quite there as far as outweighing the costs,” he says.

“The technology is probably just not quite there yet for most solo practitioners and small practices to implement such a system.” I shot a few minutes of Dr. Patrick Goggin treating a few patients so you can see how it works in situ.

Article printed from Andy Jordan’s American Journey:

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