The Weekly Check-Up Atlanta

Health Information Technology and the Affordable Care Act (Part I)


The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been deemed constitutional and is poised to make sweeping changes in the way health insurance is regulated and healthcare is paid for. One of the major long-term issues with healthcare that the ACA is trying to address is the rapid and unsustainable increase in the cost of healthcare. While the ACA primarily seeks to ensure wider access to healthcare, it does have many provisions to reduce cost.

One such provision is expanding the use of electronic health records and other health care information technologies in slowing the drastic rise in healthcare costs. This seems like a no-brainer. Despite being one of the largest and most technologically advanced industries in the country, much of the record keeping in healthcare is still handwritten horribly by rushed doctors. The benefits of an electronic medical record (EMR), and the corresponding computerized physician order entry (CPOE) system used to communicate physician orders to the pharmacy, nurses and other healthcare providers go beyond correcting the notoriously bad penmanship of physicians.

The ACA will begin enacting regulations in October that standardize much of the billing and health records, allowing for easy, yet secure, transferability and access. Currently, if a doctor wants to obtain records from another office or hospital, the patient has to fill out a form, and then the form then has to be faxed to the institution that has the desired records.  Then the records must be faxed back to the requesting doctor. The records are often not the ones requested, the quality of the fax can be poor, and the time it takes for the records to be sent can be long. This inefficient system often leads to the unnecessary repeating of tests because it can be quicker and easier to get results by performing the test again. This ends up driving the cost of care up.

In addition to increasing the efficiency of medical record sharing, many EMRs have built in clinical decision support systems (CDSS).  CDSSs are a group of programs that provide information to the physician that help them make better decisions when managing a patient’s care. There are several types of these CDSSs and they have been generating lots of buzz in certain parts of the medical community.

Check back soon, in my next post I will discuss CDSSs in more detail and talk about the buzz they are generating.