Posted on June 4, 2013

Six years after initiative launched, Anna Jaques Hospital embraces electronic record-keeping

NEWBURYPORT — Magazine cartoons over the years have poked fun at the poor penmanship of doctors — and the resulting mishaps when their prescriptions were misinterpreted.

But electronic records — and the digital orders frequently sent from physician to pharmacy — are making that situation part of history.

Numerous aspects of the conversion from paper to digital have improved the universe of medical records, say officials of Anna Jaques Hospital, and information officers there will soon embark on a new stage of electronic communication to improve patient care.

“In Massachusetts, we’re going into what is called an information ‘HIway’ (Mass Health Information Highway),” said Robert Buchanan, chief information officer at Anna Jaques Hospital. “Part of the plan is to have better communication between large medical institutions. This (Newburyport) is an area that has been enthusiastic about digital applications. I don’t think any doctors who have gone to electronic would go back to paper even if they could.”

State health officials launched an “e-health” initiative about six years ago to encourage doctors and medical centers to move from hard-copy folders to digital record-keeping.

The Newburyport area was one of three regions to be designated as “early adapters” of electronic records by the Massachusetts E-Health Collaborative.

Medical professionals at Anna Jaques and local physicians embraced the program, and among the tasks that moved to the electronic stage were prescriptions, a patient’s medical records and a “time line” of when a patient enters and exits an institution.

Also, the success of certain procedures was tracked so that doctors could begin compiling a “best practices” resource.

The effort to increase the use of medical records was part of a national reaction to a disturbing loss of life. About a decade ago, national health officials estimated that close to 100,000 deaths took place each year due to incorrect care or the distribution of wrong medication.

A drive to improve the use of patient records was launched, and today national statistics reveal that more than half of doctors’ offices and 80 percent of hospitals that provide Medicare or Medicaid will have electronic health records by the end of the year.

National health leaders say electronic medical records allow each of a patient’s doctors to see what tests have been performed and what medications have been administered. Health-care professionals say this can put an end to duplicated prescriptions and procedures and the mixing of drugs that might cause a bad reaction.

The next step, or Stage 2, appears to be the facilitation of better communication among medical institutions.

Hospitals can’t freely exchange information about patients due to privacy protections, said Dr. Gail Fayre, chief medical officer at Anna Jaques.

But it appears that Stage 2 of the evolution of record-keeping will involve increased communication among medical professionals and patients.

“Use of electronic records differs, like use of a home computer,” Fayre said. “Some people only use a computer for email and an occasional look on the Internet, and others use it to regulate their house, create a schedule, organize their meds so they remember to take them.

“Medical professionals in this area really like the online opportunities. Some are looking to do more and to increase the levels of communication.”

One of the factors driving the medical field to electronic records is incentive by the federal government.

Federal authorities made grants a part of the Recovery Act of 2009, but they required that hospitals show “meaningful use” to qualify for their incentive payments.

Hospitals such as Anna Jaques are now in the stage in which they must show they can store data and track it, report quality measures and begin to engage patients electronically.

A future step might involve increased exchange of information. For instance, a patient from western Massachusetts might be unknown to local hospital practitioners.

Once permissions are gained, a “hiway” of better communications could transfer her patient records from, say, Springfield to the Anna Jaques.

“A ‘hiway’ will enable faster communication of records, and secure email among physicians and patients,” said Buchanan. “We’ve tracked the results of electronic records, and it’s a very successful program.”

“We will be moving on to greater communication in the future.”

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