Article Date: 3/1/2005

NEWS FROM THE AOSA
Healthcare Technology

We're leaving the horse-and-buggy days behind. Will you be ready for these changes?
BY AMY RUDSER,
President, American Optometric Student Association, INDIANA UNIVERSITY, CLASS OF 2005

As many of you may know, a new government initiative is expected to affect every segment of health care -- including optometry -- within the next 10 years.

In July 2004, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson introduced a plan to replace paper medical charts with standardized electronic health records by 2015. Although the deadline seems far away, implementation is on the fast track, and the switch could be accomplished well before then.

"I think we can do it sooner," Thompson says. "And so does the President. The horse-and-buggy days of manila folders are ending."

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?

Keeping patients' records electronically isn't a new concept. In fact, a number of forward-thinking optometry clinics and other healthcare offices already have switched to paperless, electronic charting systems. The difference now is that all healthcare offices have a common deadline to make the switch.

Why the big push? Mostly, it's about saving money. Officials believe electronic record-keeping will reduce total national healthcare expenses as much as 10%. But it's also about access. Patients would have online access to their records, and doctors, regardless of their specialization or location, could quickly retrieve current medical information.

WHAT'S THE CATCH?

Switching to electronic records is a great idea with a definite deadline, but who's going to pay the bill? Good question. Right now, the burden is most likely to fall on the doctors. Initial set-up costs will account for most of the total financial outlay, but once the system is up and running, the main expense will be minimal maintenance costs.

Additional support will come from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which are fulfilling the government's pledge to lead by example. This agency will distribute $50 million in pilot grants for local projects. One project in Indiana will build a Web portal through which Medicare beneficiaries will be able to access their personal information. Medicare is creating an electronic drug prescription system, which will be launched in January 2006.

Efforts are now underway to develop software that will allow offices and doctors to share and access electronic records without compatibility problems. This plan also includes instituting a standardized system for recording the results of diagnostic tests.

DON'T BE LEFT BEHIND

Healthcare is changing every day: The FDA approves new drugs; new research confirms or refutes medical theories and physiological outcomes for specific diseases; standards of care evolve over time; and patients have more access to their medical information.

The Internet has changed our everyday lives. Adopting electronic medical records is just another step that will help optometrists keep pace with new healthcare technology as it moves forward and turns the corner into the future.

 


Optometric Management, Issue: March 2005