Starting Monday, IRMC patients will be able to do something they’ve never done before: take a look at their medical records without requesting them from their health care provider — and without even leaving the house.
To comply with federal mandates related to the Affordable Health Care Act, medical centers and health care providers across the county have been in the process of transitioning from paper to electronic record-keeping systems.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provisions in the new health care law direct providers to adopt and use electronic medical records with the aim of improving quality of care. The transition, DHHS materials said, will also alleviate administrative and paperwork loads, cut costs and reduce medical errors.
Electronic medical records, also called EMRs, are essentially online versions of a patient file at a doctor’s office. The first regulations relating to their use went into effect Oct. 1, 2012.
When Indiana Regional Medical Center transitions Monday, patients will be able to access their information through a web portal available via the hospital’s website.
According to Julia Santello, IRMC’s applications and operations supervisor of information services, patients will be able to review visit histories, check on upcoming appointments, request an appointment if they have a doctor’s slip and register for appointments.
Patients will also be able look at their individual demographic information and request a change of address or phone number.
In the future, Santello said, the system will also offer the option of viewing and paying bills online, as well as view lab tests, X-ray reports and discharge summaries.
The EMR system is provided through Meditech, a Massachusetts-based medical software company. IRMC has used the company’s integrated health care information system since 1992. The company, Santello said, is the largest one in the country serving hospitals of IRMC’s size.
“As health care has evolved,” she said, “we’ve added more and more to that system and now with meaningful use and patients being more involved in their care, they’re opening that up so that you can be more involved when you’re not here.”
IRMC has been working on the project since April, according to Santello. A group of staff tested a pilot version in September.
“It’s been a lot of work, but I think it’s been a big benefit to our community,” she said. “People like being able to see their medical records without coming (into the hospital). It’s a lot more convenient, and I think that’s going to be one of the biggest draws for patients.”
Dr. Ralph May, chief clinical guidance officer at the Community Guidance Center in White Township, has seen the patient response to EMRs firsthand.
His office began to convert to EMRs in July 2011. The guidance center has been using an electronic system to record notes during patient sessions.
This month, the mental health clinic has made EMRs available to its clients.
“We’re starting off slowly, getting them access to the medication side first, and we’re going from there,” he said.
Oftentimes, he said, patients have questions about instructions from health care providers.
“(With EMRs) they can see what they’re taking, what the doctor ordered,” he said. “It gives them a real advantage. It’s really the future.”
The system, overall, has received a positive response from guidance center clients, he said. However, he noted, some “don’t want to know” about their information. Others don’t have an adequate comfort level when it comes to using a computer and accessing the Internet.
But most do. And that, he said, can give patients an advantage when it comes to their care.
“They can look very carefully at the information that’s available to them,” he said. “It’s very secure, very private.”
By being able to review their records, patients will be able to ask doctors questions about their treatment and medical conditions, as well as offer additional input, according to May.
“We believe that patients having access to information is a good thing, not a bad thing. Because the patient is the expert in their recovery,” he said. “We have expertise, but ultimately, the patient is in charge of their own recovery and we want to make sure they have the information.”
In his experience, health care professionals find that electronic records increase communication and sharing of information. Granted a patient’s consent, a doctor can exchange their electronic materials with another physician who will be working with that same patient.
Electronic systems can help health care providers to communicate as well. It also allows providers to rapidly communicate with each other when dealing with a single patient, he said.
“So instead of calling someone or having to run down the hall to talk to someone,” he said. “You can get a lot of your questions answered by looking in a patient’s electronic file.”
Though he thinks the transition to EMRs is positive, after practicing one way for 26 years, May can see why some may have trepidation.
“I was raised in a paper system and it took me some time to get used to it,” he said. “It’s a good thing, it’s just a change.”