Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

July 20, 2013

Digital doctors: Electronic medical record use increases locally

By Bob Belcher
Corsicana Daily Sun

Corsicana — Don’t be surprised if your doctor brings a tablet computer into the exam room on your next office visit.

It’s part of a move several local physicians are making with the expansion of electronic medical record keeping, launched last week by doctors affiliated with Navarro Regional Hospital.

Xavier Villarreal, CEO of Navarro Regional, said some of its physicians locally began the transition a year or so ago.

“We had about half of our physicians that were actually using electronic medical records, and we are now rolling that out to the full clinic,” he said.

Better patient care and sharing of information are two of the key benefits to the technology, Villarreal said.

“It allows us to share that information easier, which also improves patient safety,” he added, “and overall, it improves the quality of patient care.”

Villarreal said the ability to easily share information among physicians electronically without having to transport paper medical records from a referring physician to a specialist is also a plus.

Initially, the electronic medical record for a patient will typically include an imported copy of the last few visits with a physician along with any lab results and treatment information, with all records going forward kept electronically. Older data from a patient’s paper records could also be imported into the electronic record should the need arise, he said.

The technology will also allow physicians to view patient X-ray images, lab results, hospital nurse documentation and other vital patient information to aid in diagnosis and treatment.

“If you end up in the emergency room or admitted to the hospital, when you go back and follow up with your primary doctor, they have easy access to that information,” he said.

The technology will eventually expand to using “bar codes” to help administer medicines and treatment to patients, and help medical office personnel working with physicians to document examination and treatment information.

In addition to helping improve patient care, the technology brings benefits to the hospital and its clinic physicians, Villarreal added.

“I think it makes them more efficient,” he explained. “It allows them to ‘e-prescribe’ while in the room with the patient.” With the tablet, a physician can electronically send a prescription to the patient’s pharmacy of choice.

With the information in electronic form, it also allows the attending doctor to see what other physicians have prescribed and treated in the past.

“It improves that communication and efficiency,” he said.

Villarreal said the security of the electronic patient information is a high priority.

“We take a lot of extra steps to ensure we know where the data is being kept ... and when we do allow that information to be transferred there are some specific rules we follow to make sure it’s getting to the right place,” he said.

The use of secure servers and data encryption help to keep the data safe, he added.

Navarro Regional has spent over $1 million so far on the transition, Villarreal said, throughout the last few years, including hardware, staff training, software and implementation.

Does the transition to the electric medical record signal an end of the “paper trail” for health care?

Not yet, Villarreal said.

“I think that would be nice, but I don’t know how close we are to that, really,” he said.

Physicians still receive a lot of information in paper form from insurance companies, nursing homes, and other health care providers, he said, although lots of that information is being stored in digital form once received.

“Different parts of the health care system are still evolving into electronic medical records,” he explained. “But we’re fairly close.”

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Bob Belcher may be reached by email at bbelcher@corsicanadailysun.com. Want to “Soundoff” on this story? Email: soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com