There are also decisions about computer hardware -- laptops or tablets in the exam room? Host the system on their own server, or in the cloud? Hire an IT specialist, or outsource it?
Vexing as all that is, the practice’s business manager, Vicky Bonato, says it’s probably not even their biggest challenge.
"Having everybody have a positive attitude to do it. If we could all keep positive and just get through it and learn it, I think we’ll be OK," she says.
Not every doctor in the practice is equally enthusiastic about switching to electronic records. Dr. Mike Spangler has been practicing medicine for 40 years. He’s not convinced that going digital is going to improve things.
"It's going to take a lot of time, it's going to decrease productivity," he says. "And it's going to be very expensive. So, it means kind of three strikes against it and not as many strikes for it."
Spangler isn't just griping. Margret Amatayakul, a consultant who's written about digital health records, says the experience leaves a lot of doctors frustrated.
"Especially when people are finding that they bought a product and now are not happy with it. It wouldn't surprise me if there would be two or three times a replacement process before things settle down for any given practice," she says.
The message from the federal government is much more upbeat. It says American medicine is making great progress towards reaping the benefits of the digital age. The White House says more than half of U.S. doctors are now using electronic records in a meaningful way, and the Obama administration’s head of health information technology says digital records will transform the practice of medicine.
This piece is part of a reporting partnership among NPR, Colorado Public Radio and Kaiser Health News.
Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communications organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.
Mon, Jul 15 2013