Wednesday, February 4, 2015

OBAMAmess: Feds Move into Digital Medicine, Face Doctor Backlash

Doctors are being warned by the federal government that they'll soon be penalized for not using electronic medical records, prompting a backlash from those who say the technology is fraught with problems.
The government has been handing out $30 billion in incentives to help doctors install and use these digitized patient medical histories to improve patient care. But critics say the incentives and penalties have the effect of mandating a technology that the government's own research and officials acknowledge needs major improvement. 
William McDade looks at electronic medical records in the 
pre-op area with patient Jacob Isham from Winooski, Vt. 
McDade, a Chicago anesthesiologist, has moved into 
electronic medical records but isn't convinced they improve 
record-keeping.(Photo: Anne Ryan, USA TODAY)
A group of 37 medical societies led by the American Medical Association sent a letter to Health and Human Services last month saying the certification program is headed in the wrong direction, and that today's electronic records systems are cumbersome, decrease efficiency and, most importantly, can present safety problems for patients. That same week, a coalition of 18 medical groups urged New York's governor, health commissioner and state Legislature for a year-long delay of the late March requirement that all prescriptions be processed electronically. The group says many records systems now used aren't certified by the Drug Enforcement Administration to enable e-prescribing for controlled substances.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services responded to the criticism late last week, saying it would ease reporting burdens on doctors in a proposed rule to come this spring. The rule, however, wouldn't eliminate penalties.
Against that divided backdrop, a two-day conference kicks off Monday in Washington, D.C., to discuss safety, privacy and ways to make the systems actually communicate to improve health. On Friday, the Health and Human Services Department released its plan for how to move toward greater communication between systems, although officials said it might be a decade before all systems can "talk" to each other. 
Dr. John Weeter, a plastic surgeon, stands among his many 
paper medical records at his Louisville office. (Photo: Michael 
Clevenger, The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal)
Even most critics believe electronic health records are the future. But it's unfair to levy penalties at this stage, they say, while the technology is still so flawed that it takes time away from patient care, often won't allow information to be shared between different offices, and can even create safety problems.
"Physicians passionately despise their electronic health records," says Lexington, Ky., emergency physician Steven Stack, the American Medical Association's president-elect. "We use technology quickly when it works … Electronic health records don't work right now."
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