With this month’s start of the new fiscal year, it can be said with confidence — for the first time — that all hospitals in New Jersey have undertaken the first steps to digitize their records.
It might be the inevitable norm now, but according to Joe Carr, chief information officer of the New Jersey Hospital Association, doctors were struggling to make the shift as recently as five years ago.
“Adoption rate was pretty low because the funding was difficult. It’s a big investment, it’s a lot of time, you’re changing your workflow and it’s really disruptive to get all that stuff done,” Carr said. “The HITECH Act really gave them the financial incentives to want to do it.”
The HITECH Act — short for the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act — was passed under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Under the act, the United States Department of Health and Human Services will invest $25.9 billion in health information technology.
Of that spending, $36.5 million will go toward creating a national network of digital health records.
“Even with that said, the money you get doesn’t nearly cover the money it costs for these systems as well as all the time and disruption to your practice,” Carr said. “I think all the hospitals do get that this is the way to go.”
It was not immediately clear how much it costs a hospital to transition to digital records, but Carr noted that about 5 million patient records are created at New Jersey hospitals every year.
According to Carr, the vast majority of hospitals are now operating on electronic filing systems. But digitizing records is just the first step in modernizing health care. Looking to the near future, the digitization of health records will make them more available to patients, who will then become more engaged in their own health care.
“There’s a real move toward getting patients access to their own information,” Carr said. “When I taught college, I found if I told them [students], wrote it up on the board and gave them a piece of paper with the assignments for the next month, my compliance rate went from 50 to close to 100 percent.
“And I think with the HR and the patients logging in, you get the same effect.”
Carr thinks that could be a two-way street. With new accountability of patients having access to their records, doctors might become more careful in their note-taking.