Hospitals switch to electronic records

January 30, 2009 7:33:41 PM PST
Very targeted technology spending is part of the Obama administration's stimulus package. And that could mean a new era of electronic medical records. But for some Bay Area hospitals, that process is already underway.

Hospitals are drowning in paperwork. Each of the 15,000 patients discharged by Burlingame's Mills Peninsula Hospital generates about 100 pages. That's 1.5 million pages per year.

So Mills Peninsula is in the process of jumping into electronic medical record keeping. It's training nurses and staff for a big change.

"There's too much data to be collected on the patient to simply keep it in your head anymore. We really need a peripheral brain if you will to help us manage and diagnose properly," said Chief Medical Information Officer Dr. Terry Fotre.

Dr. Fotre speaks from experience. He has 26 years specializing in emergency medicine.

Mills Peninsula is the beta site for more than two dozen California hospitals that are part of the Sutter Health System.

It joins many other hospitals spending billions of dollars to do now what President Obama wants done over the next five years. An overriding goal is to prevent errors and to provide instant access to patient records.

"Largely this is due to the fact you're not transcribing handwriting that may be poorly legible. You're not trying to guess what the doctor wrote. The doctor is actually entering orders directly into the computer system himself or herself," said

Hospitals are also responding to a growing demand by patients for online access to their medical records.

Google last year launched a service to store personal health information on its servers. Patients decide who has access.

Tight security is built into the data keeping systems.

Despite the benefits, safeguarding privacy may come under scrutiny if part of a national initiative.

"There's a very fine balance that needs to be struck in terms of allowing that patient control and protecting that privacy on the one hand and not making the system so complex that they become cost inefficiency," said Golden Gate University Business School Dean Terry Connelly, J.D.

Hospitals are said to be risk adverse, while doctors can be trained skeptics. That makes change difficult. However, the era of electronic medical records is here.

Perhaps the biggest change of all will be when Mills Peninsula moves into its new hospital building next year.