An Associated Press
examination of the "new all-digital Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh" reveals the benefits of electronic health records in action, and the steep climb the hospital took to achieve those improvements.
Doctors save time and money in the emergency room by using the records – available through "computers on wheels," or COWs – to avoid repeating tests or working without enough information while treating an infant in respiratory distress. Outpatient specialists and doctors who treat patients during hospital stays are more efficient because they are linked by the same record. Administrators are able to identify wasteful spending, like too-frequent orders for "specially filtered blood transfusions, at $30 extra a bag, when medical guidelines say few patients truly need them."
But, "only 1.5 percent of the nation's roughly 6,000 hospitals use a comprehensive electronic record," the AP reports. "[T]hat statistic belies how hard it will be for health care to jettison its 19th-century filing system by 2014, the federal government's goal — despite the $19 billion that the economic stimulus package is providing to help doctors start."
Doctors and hospitals resist moving to the records because they require large investments during the transitions from paper and have a steep learning curve as physicians adjust their workflow. "It took Children's seven hard years and more than $10 million to evolve a system that lets its doctors check on patients with a few mouse clicks from anywhere and use speedily up-to-date records in directing their care" (Neergaard, 7/7).