The Trend Toward a Paperless Hospital

In the second of our series on the Harvard Business Review‘s Ten Innovations That Will Transform Medicine, we take a look at evidence-based decision-making. The standard of care may vary widely from one practitioner to the next, and patients may not always receive the most effective treatment. Many medical centers and doctor’s offices across the U.S. are moving toward a paperless system to collect patient health information and standardize care. Electronic medical records (EMRs) can track patient data and recommend best practices, helping doctors make evidence-based treatment decisions.

EMRs are hotly contested in the medical field. Critic have expressed concerns about cost, patient privacy, and the time required to implement the software and train staffers to use it. Proponents of EMR say that the software will improve patient outcomes, increase efficiency, and reduce costs. Despite the concerns, it appears that the use of EMRs will increase in the next few years, encouraged by last year’s economic stimulus package (which earmarked $19 billion for healthcare IT) and the new healthcare reform bill. The bill, signed by President Barack Obama on Tuesday, puts a strong emphasis on increasing the use of EMRs.  

Some companies offering products in this space include: 

CareMed of La Mesa, Calif., was founded by a doctor of internal medicine. The company’s MedProfile system allows healthcare practitioners to manage patient information, generate lists of recommended protocols, print any of over 1800 educational handouts for patients, handle prescriptions, and more. According to the company’s website, a doctor whos saves five minutes per patient and sees twenty patients per day, twenty days a month, will save 400 hours annually (or $140,000 per year at an average of $350 per hour). CareMed is currently seeking investors.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based 360Fresh offers text-mining and analytics software for electronic medical records. The Pulse360 system analyzes patient data to assess such areas as risk and patient compliance. Track360 allows physicians to track patients who are at risk of non-compliance.

MedEvolve‘s system includes applications for practice management, EMR, eligibility verification, and electronic prescribing. The company experienced 21% revenue growth in 2009, and over 15% growth for each of the five previous years.

Certify Data Systems aims to alleviate some of the primary complaints about EMRs, including interoperability.  A patient may see several different doctors, each of whom has a different EMR and a different ID for the patient–none of which match her ID at the hospital.  Certify’s distributed Master Patient Index contains a tool that automatically matches patients’ accounts across different EMR systems.  The company has also developed the HealthDock Appliance, a device for the immediate delivery of clinical data from the hospital’s electronic system to the physician’s. Certify’s system allows messages to go both ways, so physicians theoretically wouldn’t need to call the hospital for lab results or test scheduling.

In 2008, Inc. magazine named eClinicalWorks one of the 500 fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. The Westborough, Mass.-based company has turned a profit every quarter since 2000, and has over 34,000 physicians using its products. The EMR system offered by eClinicalWorks allows physicians to measure the quality of patient care, set up treatment protocols, generate reports for patient follow-up, submit electronic prescriptions and refills, and make notes.  eClinicalWorks 8.0 allows physicians to measure the quality of patient care, set up treatment protocols, generate reports for patient follow-up, submit electronic prescriptions and refills, and make notes.

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