On April 24, 2014, NPR (National Public Radio) reported on the difficulty that many small hospitals and clinics in the U.S. are facing with the move to electronic health records. Electronic health records require the purchase and implementation of a healthcare-specific document management system. These systems, while providing all the benefits of typical document management systems, also have to comply with federal standards for the treatment of electronic health records.
Standards for electronic health records are great for many reasons, among them are:
– They provide the ability for different organizations to interchange data.
– They instill confidence in customers that their hospital or clinic is doing the same thing as every other one.
– They insure a base level of data is recorded and, by extension, a base-level of care.
But it isn’t all roses. The primary problem with the standards is the cost. According to the article, costs of implementing an electronic health record system that meets the federal standards requires at least $1 million. This, presumably, includes not only the cost of the software, but also of the hardware and other IT infrastructure that they need to run the system. It also requires hiring someone to maintain it, which adds most costs.
For many small hospitals and clinics that’s just not possible. Those small hospitals and clinics end up partnering with larger, nearby hospitals to get access to their IT systems. For most of those small organizations though, it’s a decision that they don’t make lightly. By joining with a large hospital, they lose a lot of independence. They no longer get to determine what system they use for their electronic medical records, they also can’t always control what doctors and services are available. These are difficult tradeoffs for many small hospitals to accept.
One of the solutions to the cost problem that we’ve discussed in previous posts, is using cloud-based document management systems. With cloud-based systems, small organizations can save a lot of money because they don’t have to buy, install, and maintain the infrastructure and software for their electronic health records. These systems seldom make sense for larger institutions that already have their own IT staff and infrastructure, but for small organizations this can make the difference between staying independent and joining a larger hospital. All of the maintenance, upgrades, support is offloaded to the provider while the hospital gains the benefits of a standards-compliant record management system without giving up their independence to another hospital.
Independence is extremely important to most people, and as it turns out, to many organizations as well. By embracing this technology, small hospitals and clinics can maintain their independence while still providing excellent care and meeting federal standards.