Electronic Health Records
Greenville, Miss. – There’s no black doctor’s bag anymore. Only a tablet-sized personal computer. No hard-to-read handwritten prescriptions. Just a mouse-click transmission to any pharmacy, anywhere in the country. No charts or bulky paper records. Simply a series of commands that keeps every aspect of a patient’s care in a virtual world.
Welcome to a new age of medicine in a region of America that has historically been left behind when it comes to technology and healthcare. It’s called Electronic Health Records (EHR), and it’s quickly taking hold in the Mississippi Delta. Just ask Dr. Kenneth Hahn.
“If I had to ever handwrite a prescription again it would be a total disaster,” said Hahn, a Greenville cardiologist. “We could not function now without electronic records. It just blows my mind.”
Improved efficiency. Increased patient safety. Better doctor-patient communication. More accurate and complete medical records. It all translates into an even higher level of care for Delta residents.
Hahn is one of more than two dozen Delta physicians who are now using EHR thanks to the Delta Health Alliance, which is funding every aspect of the new system. The alliance began the EHR project in 2007 by first building the infrastructure necessary to make it work. A year later, the first doctors were using the new system, and their numbers are growing.
“We’re talking about groups of people who have been in a manual, paper-based process all of their careers,” said Chuck Fitch, chief information officer for the Delta Health Alliance. “We began with three or four physician groups in the Delta, our ‘guinea pigs’, and showed them the system. It took about a month before the doctors began easing out of the paper system and started using electronic records.”
Without the Delta Health Alliance, a five-group physician practice, as an example, could expect to spend between $150,000-$250,000 to set up a similar system. The alliance provides a turn-key operation that includes: implementation, training, redeployment of office work flows, ongoing support and, of course, the tablet-sized personal computers.
“My staff takes care of all that,” said Fitch. “The benefit to them financially is that they don’t have to invest in servers and people. And remember, we’re not talking about Microsoft Office here. You don’t just buy it and expect it to work.”
But once it is working, the advantages to both doctor and patient are plentiful. With PC in hand, Hahn can process every aspect of a patient visit, from time of arrival to time of discharge. He can review a patient’s history, trend vitals such as weight and see lab results. He can better manage medications for improved health and patient safety, and help patients save money with generic drugs. He can send prescriptions to local pharmacies or mail-order pharmacies with a click of his mouse. He can keep better track of his daily clinic schedule, down to the minute. He can access patient records from home in the middle of the night if emergencies arise. And he can more accurately process medical fees and charges, ensuring proper reimbursement for care.
“I would not do a session without it (EHR),” he said.
Hahn estimates that EHR has increased his productivity ten times, allowing him to see two to three more patients in a clinic session. “And my patients absolutely like this,” he said. “They are watching everything. They look at their medication list, their trends, some of their lab values. They know if I walk in without my tablet, something is missing.”
Wilma Malone is one of those patients. She knows the value of EHR first hand.
“The first time he came in with the computer and showed me, I said ‘that’s really something good,’” said Malone, a Greenville resident who has been a patient of Dr. Hahn’s for about nine years.
“It means he has more time to give me. The more he has to write, the less time he’s able to spend talking with patients. And Dr. Hahn is one who likes to give a lot of patient care,” she said. “I am so glad you (the Delta Health Alliance) are doing this now. When you give a doctor the technology to be even more efficient, that’s a wonderful thing.”