NY initiative advances cause of electronic medical health records

Electronic medical health record software is expensive and difficult. So a coalition of doctors and insurers are deploying the system via web services. The result: ease of use and low costs.

Hurricane Katrina showed the pressing need for electonic medical health records, an initiative that federal government officials are pressing hard. But the cost and complexity of the software has kept doctors from making the switch. According to Gartner, fewer than 5% of doctors use EMR software and among doctors practicing in groups of five or less the number is more like 3%, according to the Gartner Group.

One solution is the Taconic Network - a consortium of 500 doctors, hospitals, insurers and employers in New York's Hudson Valley - which, the New York Times reports today, has created a Web-based approach to EMR software. For the modest sum of about $500 a month, small groups of doctors can make the move to electronic records. That compares quite favorably with the tens of thousands of dollars and the steep learning curve for traditional software.

According to the Times:

The Hudson Valley effort is being watched as a potential model by federal and state government and industry officials, who say that up to 60 percent of Americans receive their primary care at small-scale physicians' offices. Unless those small medical practices can adopt the most modern and efficient information technology, millions of Americans may never know the benefits of the most advanced and safest care.

The Times quotes the federal government's health information coordinator, Dr. David J. Brailer:

"My mantra is to ask, How can we make electronic medical records cheaper and more valuable to the doctor?" Dr. Brailer said. "These are grass-roots efforts that are filling a hole that the federal and state governments cannot respond to."

Obviously, Taconic is an example of web services and it's a model for how systems of critical importance to government, whether they exist in public or private settings, are migrating to the modern paradigm of the Internet.  Check out how it works:

The key to the system is its secure shared database. "Instead of having dozens of systems in doctors' offices, it is hosted on one facility," Dr. Blair said.

All a participating doctor needs is at least one computer terminal with high-speed access to the Internet, he said, and a router computer for security protection and antivirus software. Some doctors have flat screens in each examining room. Some have wireless tablets or laptops they take from room to room. Most have separate terminals for themselves and their nurses and administrative staffs.

The Taconic network supplies the training for doctors and their staffs and maintains local support centers to troubleshoot the inevitable challenges posed by new software.

"That's what they need, that's why I like this model," said Dr. Handler at the Gartner research group. Without such technical support for small medical practices, "it's hard for them to get over the hurdles," he said.