By switching to an all-electronic records system, according to UMC Quality Improvement Coordinator Frank Gonzalez, a patient’s health information will be available when and where its needed by giving doctors secure access to them. Electronic records will give doctors real-time access to accurate, up-to-date patient information with the capability to instantly and securely exchange information with other doctors and specialists, information-sharing that would not have been possible in the past.
“This is all geared toward the patient and the safety, performance, efficiency and enhancement of their care,” Gonzalez said. “This will be a safe process and will reduce the overall cost of health care, and it is for the betterment of the community.”
Imagine, Gonzalez continued, if you are a Grand Junction resident traveling to Norwood to visit family and then had a medical emergency. With access to electronic health records from your doctor in Grand Junction, it could help doctors make better decisions about your care, he said.
Another feature UMC patients will benefit from is Uncompahgre’s new Patient Portal. The portal, which will launch later this summer, is a web-based communication tool that is easy and safe to use. It will give patients the ability to request new appointments, request prescription refills and lab reports, review past billing statements, and find education materials to help with chronic health conditions. UMC patients will also be able to securely communicate with their doctor through their email, which means no more phoning the clinic and being placed on hold just to ask a simple question. In an effort to ensure that patients have all the information necessary to properly and safely use the new Patient Portal, UMC plans on providing helpful guides and seminars to its patients later this summer.
“The patients end up gaining a lot of efficiency and access,” Gonzalez said. “That’s where the value comes from, not to mention the convenience for our patents who can access their records from home.”
Gonzales said the electronic record system will “go live” on June 4, and in the first few weeks after that the medical center will be reducing its patient load so all the medical providers in the clinic can learn the system. Updating all of UMC’s patient records to electronic files will not happen instantly, Gonzales said it will take some time and all records are scheduled to turn digital by 2014.
“We will be having some reduced visits while we are training and transferring all the information properly,” he said. “A lot of care is being taken as to how we are going about this.”
While switching to electronic records has a host of benefits for UMC’s patients, going electronic will also position the medical center to qualify for federal help in paying for the costs of going electronic. Currently UMC is in the process of qualifying for “Meaningful Use” which is a term that was developed out of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. HITECH is a portion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and strives to create efficiencies by switching to electronic records. Under HITECH, eligible healthcare providers can qualify for Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments when they adopt certified electronic health records technology and use it to achieve specified health related goals.
Some of the major goals of the HITECH Act were to develop standards by which a nationwide electronic exchange could be established. This improves the quality and coordination of healthcare. It also saves the federal government, according to Gonzalez, $10 billion and generates additional savings throughout the healthcare sector through reductions of medical errors and duplicative care. The Act also strengthened federal privacy and security laws in order to protect personal health information from being misused.
For more information about UMC, visit umclinic.org.
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