Rural Hospital Places Critical Bet On Health IT; Technology Raises Fears Of Hackers

A small, rural hospital in Missouri is "rolling the dice" on electronic medical records, its CEO tells the Associated Press. The 47-bed hospitals borrowed nearly $1 million to implement an electronic records system, and that's on top of a $370,000 operating deficit and staff layoffs. The executives are banking on a government bailout in the form of a "$3 million windfall" of stimulus-funded incentives for hospitals to switch to electronic record-keeping.

The billions of dollars of incentives will be available to doctors and hospitals that make "meaningful use" of electronic records beginning in 2011, the AP reports. "Across the country, many small, rural hospitals have been hesitant to do away with their clipboards of handwritten nurses' notes and doctors' orders because of the budget-busting costs of electronic systems and a shortage of staff with the technical expertise to oversee them." The Missouri hospital may be an exception. The loan to implement the records, offset by a local tax increase that would help fund the emergency room, could be enough to keep the hospital in business until the new incentives hit their balance sheets (Lieb, 8/4).

The Wall Street Journal reports that new technologies are appearing that interface with health information technology. For instance, Proteus Biomedical, a Silicon Valley company, "is testing a miniature digestible chip that can be attached to conventional medication, sending a signal that confirms whether patients are taking their prescribed pills. A sensing device worn on the skin uses wireless technology to relay that information to doctors, along with readings about patients' vital signs" (Clark, 8/4).

As hospitals go digital, the Wall Street Journal reports in a separate story, they are increasing their exposure to a new epidemic: hackers. Though government officials have acknowledged the need for greater security, details remain unclear, and "privacy advocates are concerned the administration's effort could end up making health information less secure." Last year, health organizations reported 97 data breaches, up from 64 the previous year. A much larger jump in reported attacks is expected this year, in part due to a new law that requires disclosure of breaches in California (Worthen, 8/4).

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