Work underway to digitize health records

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(Host) Medical and technology experts are working to make Vermonters’ health records available in electronic form.

The goal is to improve care by allowing physicians and hospitals to instantly access a patient’s medical history.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Many doctors’ offices now store records the old way – in paper files. So if a person is rushed unconscious to a hospital with a life-threatening illness, the physician on hand may not know the patient’s medical history.

The information vacuum can be unhealthy.

(Farnum) "A doctor would end up ordering duplicate tests. And a lack of information delays a diagnosis and medications may be administered and put the patient at risk."

(Dillon) Gregory Farnum is president of Vermont Information Technology leaders. The non-profit organization just came out with a five year plan to bring Vermont’s health care system into the modern age of digital data sharing.

The plan looks at the costs, the technology and the privacy concerns raised by electronic health systems

Farnum says protecting patient data is a key goal. He said data networks will be password protected and secure.

(Farnum) "We’ve really built a partnership, or intend to build a partnership, with the provider practices around the state to understand and only provide access to those that have a need to know information about patients."

(Dillon) The program has already launched a pilot project in two Vermont hospitals that allows emergency room personnel to access a patient’s medication history.

Doctor Harry Chen is a state representative from Mendon, and an emergency room doctor. He says the pilot project at the Rutland Regional Medical Center is a complete success.

(Chen) "That medication list tells me that the patient has hypertension, tells me that the patient has diabetes or heart disease, or has been fighting an infection for an extended period of time. This really gives a one page, 30-second overview of the patient’s history."

(Dillon) Digitizing medical records and sharing health information won’t be cheap. The plan estimates that the cost of connecting physicians in Vermont would be about $62,000 each, or a total of $24.7 million over three years.

And that does not include expenses by hospitals that already have electronic record keeping systems.

Dr. Chen says patients and insurance companies are the prime beneficiaries of new technology.

(Chen) "So I think at some point, when we get more success under our belt, we should look at who’s reaping the benefit of this, and therefore who should be funding this."

(Dillon) Vermont Information Technology Leaders will make a recommendation to the legislature on how to pay for the new technology.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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