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Brave new world for health care

Medical records going electronic

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The days when your chart at the doctor's office consisted of a series of indecipherable notes scratched onto lined paper are coming to an end in Manitoba.

Half of all physicians and nurse practitioners in community-based clinics -- some 750 in total -- are now hooked up to an electronic medical records (EMR) system. And another 250 have committed to investing in one.

Health-care workers say the brave new world of EMR makes it easier to track patient needs and test results and will improve patient care.

The province launched an incentive program two years ago to help doctor's offices and clinics convert to computerized record-keeping. Health providers received 70 per cent of eligible costs up to $20,000. At the time, only about 300 doctors and nurse practitioners used electronic patient records.

Gillian Brennan, project co-ordinator for Manitoba eHealth, said a corner has been turned in patient record-keeping in the province.

"It does mean that the standard method for capturing information in a physician's office will now be electronic," she said Wednesday.

Medical professionals say EMRs are especially valuable in clinics where a patient might be seen by one of several different members of a team. The records are easily accessible and they're legible. Test results and prescription histories are properly filed and they're in chronological order.

Alerts can be established reminding a doctor or a nurse practitioner of a particular patient issue or concern. Maybe a blood test or some other test needs to be done. Prescriptions can be renewed with the click of a button -- and they are legible.

Vivi Katz, nurse practitioner at the Access Downtown Clinic on Main Street, said paper charts can go missing or be misfiled, despite the best office protocols.

"There's no hunting for charts and multiple people can be looking at the same chart simultaneously, which is fantastic," she said of her clinic's new EMR system.

If a patient had a test done at the hospital, Katz can tap into the province's new eChart hospital record system to check the result of a CT scan.

"It's a much cleaner and tighter system in terms of accessing the information quickly and easily," she said.

Brennan acknowledged some doctors may never hook up to an electronic system. The government incentive program has come to an end, now that the goal of signing up 1,000 professionals has been accomplished.

But eventually, everyone will keep electronic records.

"New doctors coming out of medical school are unlikely to practise using paper, regardless of whether there is funding or not," Brennan said. "They're going to embrace (electronic medical records)."

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 1, 2012 A6

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