Sunday, March 18, 2012

In Pursuit Of EMR Nirvana

Our hospital is undergoing an epic conversion to electronic medical records. The process has been taking place for years. The federal government has mandated that all patient records be recorded electronically by the year 2014. They even have an incentive program available to bribe doctors and hospitals into adopting the new systems. If the carrot doesn't work, by 2015 the government will start wielding its big stick and penalize facilities for not using EMR's. How's that for a refutation of "live free or die"?

Naturally there has been great anxiety about the process. We have all heard the tales of how other hospitals' adoptions of EMR's have fared. Worker productivity falls 50% as everybody tries to get up to speed on the new system. Doctors and nurses quit out of frustration as they try to reconcile with their new electronic overlord. Our hospital administration has held rallies to allay the fears of going all electronic. Balloons and T-shirts have been handed out as goodwill gestures. Much cake has been sliced and ice cream scooped to encourage people to look kindly at the approaching demise of the paper chart.

For weeks every time we logged into the hospital computer, a countdown clock was displayed prominently telling us how soon we were switching to EMR's. This had the perverse sensation of facing a coming apocalypse. As the time ticked down, our emails became more frequent and urgent. Everybody MUST take EMR classes to ensure that we knew how to work the software. Failure to register at one of the classes could lead to disciplinary actions. Doctors were asked to not admit as many patients for the first few weeks while everybody fumbles with the computers. The operating rooms were expected to slow down as turnover time between cases was expected to double.

The future is now. The clock of the apocalypse recently counted down to zero and we turned on the EMR switch. We have now gone about 90% electronic, with a few minor details that still remain on physical paper. It has been an enlightening past few weeks. I'll be writing a series of reports to let the curious know how it went. We've all heard the wonderful tales of how EMR's will save American health care. Now you can follow along and read the reality of taking away centuries old medical tradition and in one stroke going all digital.

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