Have Your Doctors Gone Digital?

July 10, 2012 - 3 Comments

When you go in for your annual exam, does your doctor enter notes on a laptop, send your prescriptions direct to the pharmacy, and make your lab results available online for your? Or does your doctor still pull out that bulging manila folder full of patient history notes, write prescriptions on paper using unintelligible handwriting, and wait days to get results for X-Rays or MRIs? There are incentives for going digital, but how many doctors do you know who have taken the plunge?

A recent national survey of healthcare workers found that adoption and meaningful use of Electronic Health Records (EHR) is significantly below expected. For the uninitiated, “meaningful use” is a term indicating doctors have an electronic health record system with the capability to take specific actions with the system. Examples of these actions include sending and tracking pharmacy prescriptions, getting drug interaction warnings, and sending clinical visit summaries to other clinics.

In hard numbers, the survey found that in 2011 only 11% of physicians were both intending to apply and had an EHR system with the capabilities needed for the meaningful use designation. This is surprising as there are financial incentives to get to meaningful use. A recent case study shows that getting the right infrastructure in place can dramatically aid physicians in this goal and get them the designation in a matter of months.

Financial Incentives
When doctors reach the capabilities necessary for meaningful use they can apply for grants from Medicare or Medicaid. These grants are meant to help doctors move to EHR systems and act as a guide as they consider what technology to prioritize so they can quickly make a positive impact on patients. Physicians can make up to $44k over 5 years and hospitals can make around $2M. Patients using some EHR components such as virtual consultations are liking the results. I can see how many of these capabilities will be useful and expected in the coming years. Not having to get photocopies of your medical records when you move is one thing I’m especially looking forward to. So the study showing that only 11% of physicians had the capabilities and intended to apply is surprising.

The Right Network
This 11% number is also surprising when compared with one healthcare system that recently deployed Cisco branch routers and WAN optimization solutions and was able to deploy EHR to get 90% of their physicians meeting meaningful use requirements in a matter of months.

Sparrow Hospital and Health System is mid-Michigan’s premier healthcare organization and we recently interviewed their CIO and CTO for a case study to understand how they used WAAS to help them move to an EHR system. Both CIO Tom Bres and CTO Patrick Hale are clearly focused on enabling Sparrow to help patients.

“The idea of helping this institution adopt the same technologies I had worked with in other industries to improve the healthcare of families and neighbors and fellow citizens was compelling,” says Bres.

Growth Over Time

When Sparrow decided to implement an EHR system in 2008 they knew convincing their doctors and staff to move from paper and pen to electronic records might be difficult. They decided to deploy in phases so they could show efficacy and started with their ambulatory service affiliates as their first phase.

“Starting at the edge of the Sparrow care network, before working back to the center, was a bit counterintuitive,” says Hale. “But we saw it as a low-risk way to gain experience with Epic [Sparrow’s EHR provider] and our other software and see how it performed on our network. It increased our odds of success with the whole transition.”

Sparrow’s wide area network had to be able to optimize X-Rays, MRIs, and other images and documents physicians needed that might be transferred between Sparrow’s data center and remote practices. In all, they were looking at transitioning millions of records for the 7,000 users in their system. They achieved the goal of fast image transmission, and more, by adding Cisco ISR 3800s and ISR G2 3900s routers, each equipped with a WAAS Network Module, at each remote location as well as at the data center.

The full case study can be found here.

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  1. Well some of our Doctors and hospitals in Nigeria has really upgrade themselves and taken of files around has been reduced or not in place but many hospitals still go the old way of doing things.