Clinicians Urged Not to Wait for Perfect Technology

By M.L. Baker  |  Posted 2005-05-20
SALT LAKE CITY—Health advocates clamoring to substitute paper charts with electronic ones are shortsighted. Thats according to Rick Peters of the American Academy of Family Physicians, who gave the keynote address this week at Toward an Electronic Patient Record, an annual conference sponsored by the Medical Records Institute.

The health IT community needs to stop waiting for universal consensus on standards for document formats and data exchange, he said. "Take a solution that isnt perfect, and just do it."

But simply turning a paper chart into an electronic one is not necessarily a solution, Peters said. To be a solution, technology must make patients healthier, make clinicians lives easier or make health care more efficient.

That means that electronic medical records should open up new ways of providing health care, or at least change the way that medicine is practiced so that wasteful processes are either eliminated or automated.

In a later session, David Trachtenberg, a physician with the Methodist Medical Group, echoed this sentiment. When his 31-site practice moved to electronic prescribing, he said, the focus was on office efficiency, not on replacing the paper chart.

Ultimately, he said, the process of getting a prescription filled decreased from 27 steps with a paper system to 15 with an electronic one. The number of times patients charts had to be pulled to refill prescriptions dropped dramatically, from 266 a month to 11. (Another physician at the conference estimated that pulling a patient chart could cost $10 per chart.)

Nonetheless, Trachtenberg said, the transition took two years, and its not over. Processes must be streamlined continually. "Workflow redesign has to be done over and over again."

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