IT key to successful e-health record rollout

Health care pros first need to understand the technology they already have

Editor's note: This is the second part of a two-part look at the planned rollout of e-health records in the U.S. Part 1 is already available.

Hospitals and physicians have four years to deploy comprehensive electronic health records (EHR) systems and the technology needed to support them if they hope to snag some of the billions of dollars the federal government has earmarked to reimburse them for the work. That's why they're already scrambling to figure out how to set up what are likely to be costly and complex systems.

The government has established "meaningful use" criteria that will determine whether best practices guidelines are being met. But many facilities are unaware of the standards or how to achieve them.

Experts cite these five key factors for successfully implementing EHRs at hospitals and doctor's offices:

• Know what you already have.

• Get departmental and executive-level involvement and ongoing support for the rollout.

• Verify that vendor products are certified.

• Make sure technology can be integrated facilitywide.

• Ensure that staffers are well trained and certified to use the system.

According to a Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC) survey of executives at 58 U.S. hospitals and integrated health delivery networks, hospitals are only halfway to qualifying for government reimbursements for their EHR plans.

The IT service provider's survey offers good news and bad for facilities now eyeing EHR technology. In many cases, CSC found that the hospitals can already support one of the most basic elements of an EHR rollout -- a computerized physician order entry (CPOE) system. In fact, hospitals may not even need to purchase new hardware or software to move ahead in that area. According to CSC, 70% of hospitals have systems that can support CPOE, although just 8% have such systems throughout their facilities where at least 75% of orders are entered by physicians.

The survey also found that while 89% of hospitals report on core quality measures, only half capture the majority of the required data from their EHR systems. Moreover, 98% have policies in place to limit the disclosure of protected health information, but only 52% use encryption to render data unreadable or unusable in case of unauthorized access. And 40% report broad awareness of the new civil and criminal penalties included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. That's the measure, passed by Congress last year, that includes $36 billion in funds to reimburse U.S. doctors and hospitals for EHR rollouts.

Erica Drazen, a managing partner in CSC's healthcare group, said her company routinely asks prospective clients if they know where they are in their EHR rollouts. Most have no idea.

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