In New Jersey, and around the country, most doctors still rely on paper records for everything from writing prescriptions to keeping track of their patients’ allergies.
Only about 1.5 percent of U.S. hospitals have switched to an electronic records systems, and less than 8 percent have even a basic system, according to a recent study by the New England Journal of Medicine.
But health care providers who have made the switch to electronic health records — or those who get onboard in the next several months — may soon have a lot to gain.
The stimulus bill passed by Congress in February offers more than $19 billion to reward doctors and hospitals that have successfully moved into the digital age. The goal: Encourage so many providers to come online that it becomes possible to develop a secure, national network for sharing patients’ medical information.
“You’ve got to have the dots filled before you connect them,” said Joseph Carr, chief information officer for the New Jersey Hospital Association.
The task is daunting. Decades worth of paper records must be digitized. Strict privacy standards must be developed. Then there’s the problem of what to buy: Hundreds of diverse health information computer programs are now on the market — but they’re not guaranteed to be compatible with each other.
“There’s no hesitation on the part of vendors,” said Rohit Nayak, a vice president for sales for Med Plus, a Quest Diagnostics company. “The rush is on.”
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