Few among us appreciate mandates, especially federal mandates, however one of those mandates has yielded some technological advancements locally.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2010 included incentives for health care providers to move from their existing record-keeping systems, even if they were electronic, to “meaningful use” of Electronic Health Records.
Medical professionals were expected to adopt and demonstrate acceptable levels of usage by Jan. 1, 2014, to maintain existing levels of Medicare and Medicaid funding. The expectation of “meaningful use” of electronic health records was accelerated in 2015 along with applying a penalty, risking a loss of 1 percent of Medicare reimbursements if health care providers didn’t adopt and implement the mandate. That’s a significant amount of needed compensation. With 15 percent of Americans relying on Medicare benefits, a 1-percent reduction in Medicare reimbursements at any medical facility would have meant a significant loss to the bottom line.
Hutchinson Clinic implemented electronic medical records at the end of 2011, according to Janelle Carr, RN, the clinic’s training and development and human resources business partner. It later added a patient portal enabling patients to access their own medical records electronically, however, just 23 percent of patients use the portal, so many clearly are missing out on an intuitive tool that could benefit their family.
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The conversion to electronic health records resulted in Hutch Clinic’s adoption of a MyHealth@HC app. The app, which can be downloaded and accessed on computers, tablets and smart phones, enables patients to easily, quickly and conveniently access their personal medical records on demand.Those medical records include the basics, such as vital signs, health summaries and a health journal as well as past and upcoming medical appointments.
Those are handy for people on the go and those who just can’t remember details of their visit with their physician and need to reference them again later. The app, which is free, also proves useful for patients to communicate directly with their doctor about medications, symptoms and other follow-up information. That is unheard-of access and certainly aids communication on critical issues.
So what difference does this electronic health records mandate mean to the average patient? It means the busy parents can have their child’s medical records accessible, when needed. It also means, if approved by the patient as a proxy or through durable power of attorney, that adult children can access an aging parent or loved one’s health records electronically from near or far. What a blessing that would be to adult children residing far away from people they care about. It also means if someone is involved in an accident outside of the area and needs to quickly access their medications list and other pertinent data that it can be done conveniently via the system.
Why did this evolution in electronic health records come about? The ARRA sought to better engage patients and their families in order to improve health care coordination and public health and to improve quality, safety and efficiency of the health system while maintaining privacy and security.
Electronic health records make it easier for patients, including veterans, to download and have portable medical records to take with them to avoid unnecessary delays in treatment because a patient could provide a medical provider with records from previous medical appointments and various providers easily.
This multi-year program no doubt produced considerable heartache for the affected medical providers and facilities. Besides requiring the purchase of hardware and software, organizations also had to employ specialists skilled in handling information technology combined with medical records and expanding the skill set of medical providers not accustomed to having to refer to an electronic device to review medical records.
Those who tried the MyHealth@HC app when it first rolled should give it another try since it has continued evolving and works well. Patients need to sign up for the service in person so their identity can be verified via a photo ID, which initiates the process even if one of Hutch Clinic’s 80 health care providers isn’t a patient’s primary physician. Besides patients connecting with their information through their personal email address, they also can authenticate their account through social media accounts too.
Whether Americans liked or disliked the move toward electronic medical records, it has proven to be a strong catalyst for positive changes for patients that might not otherwise have been made in the medical industry, and something that thankfully can be enjoyed locally.
Date: August 27, 2016