Lowering health care costs, mistakes

Delaware’s Congressional delegation was at A.I. DuPont Hospital for Children this morning, praising the hospital for its leadership in embracing electronic health records as a way of lowering costs and reducing mistakes.

Currently about 21% of office-based doctors are using a “basic” electronic health records system, but lawmakers would like to see that number increase as part of an effort to reduce errors and lower costs.

Starting at the beginning of this month, medical professionals and hospitals who join the Medicare Electronic Health Record Incentive Program are eligible for up to $40,000 over five years as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  A.I. DuPont’s President and CEO Dr. Kevin Churchwell says, “Using technology to help people get well and stay well is a nationwide effort.”

A.I. DuPont is just one of nearly 100 hospitals hosting similar events today about electronic health records (EHR).  Churchwell described ways the hospital is using new technology to reduce errors and improve communication among medical providers.  “Our EHR has enabled us to spend more time on direct patient care and less time on record keeping.  It means more efficient care and less guess work.  It means complete, legible, unambiguous orders.”  

Congressman John Carney (D) says a big part of the nation’s current economic trouble stems from increasing health care costs, which could be reduced with a shift to electronic health records.  “There aren’t a lot of, frankly, very good ideas about how to contain those health care costs.  One very good idea is health information technology.”

Senator Tom Carper (D) says a key component in improving health care costs and the quality of care in the U.S. is electronic health records.  “If we’re interested in better health care outcomes for less money, one of the biggest bangs for the buck comes from harnessing information technology.”  Carper says the federal stimulus program has designated about $19 billion to be used as incentives for doctors to start using health care IT.    

Dr. Stephen Lawless, Vice President of Quality and Safety at Nemours, says the electronic health records have streamlined the hospital’s operation and dramatically reduced the risk of an error in communication among doctors.  “No longer can I write [prescriptions], they  have to be legible,” he says.  “Abbreviations are eliminated because we don’t allow them.”  Lawless says the electronic records have helped the hospital reach an error-free rate of 99.98%.  

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