Some hospitals have gone all-electronic

June 15, 2009 7:11:21 PM PDT
President Obama addressed the importance of making the switch to electronic medical records from paper ones. It's something that a few hospitals in the Bay Area have already tackled. Their technological transition is being watched by hospitals across the country that have yet to make the switch.

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When registered nurse Emily Alfaro checks on her patient, she doesn't have to bring the chart. It's always there, just a couple mouse clicks away.

Mills Peninsula is the first of California's Sutter Health system hospitals to go all-electronic. The hospital says it's joined an elite group -- only two percent of the nation's hospitals are all-electronic.

"Some hospitals have computerized physician order entry. Some of them have electronic revenue cycle. We have a fully electronic health record from beginning to end," said Carrie Owne Pietz from Mills Peninsula.

President Obama is calling for a nation-wide system update.

"We do a better job tracking a FedEx package in this country than we do tracking patient's health records," said President Obama.

Mills transitioned from paper charts to electronic records in April. I.T. director Michael Riadno says it was a massive undertaking - one of the major challenges was making the change without risking interruption of in-patient care.

"At the very time people need the most amount of care, we're also changing all of the systems that the doctors and nurses are using, and they all have to change their use at one moment. We did it overnight after 20 months of planning," said Riadno.

Chief medical records officer Dr. Terry Fotre says everyone involved in patient care, from the emergency room to the pharmacy can log on and bad handwriting or miscommunication is no longer a problem.

"Most importantly with the physician entering the order himself or herself, there's no risk of transcription error," said Dr. Fotre.

But the big question is how different hospitals might be able to share records and whether individual doctor's offices will all be able to join the digital age in the five-year timeframe prescribed by President Obama.

Programming note:
ABC News will carry a special primetime conversation with the president on the future of the nation's healthcare system.

The question and answer session will be held on Wednesday, June 24, 2009 at 10 p.m. Pacific Time. It will be hosted by Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer on ABC Channel 7.

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