Health care reform is more about caregiving than electronic records, providers say

Efforts focus on process improvements in delivery of care
BY PAULA BURKES pburkes@opubco.com Published: January 8, 2012

Like the car window stickers used for quick pay of turnpike tolls, RFID technology uses radio waves to identify, track and store electronic information on objects that have microchips, including tiny antennas, embedded or attached to them.

“RFID is having a tremendous impact on health care,” said Harry Pappas, founder and chief executive of RFID in Healthcare. Microchips, he said, are being embedded in everything from artificial hips, heart and hospital identification bracelets to wheelchairs, infusion pumps and bags of blood.

“It may cost millions to do, but you quickly get your return on investment,” Pappas said.

For example, chips now are being embedded in surgical sponges, he said. RFID technology, he said, saves much time counting and recounting sponges and other instruments, to ensure they're not inadvertently left in a patient's body before incisions are closed.

Variety Care, which operates 13 community health centers across Oklahoma County and in three western Oklahoma towns, converted its scheduling, billing and patient information from paper to electronic records in 2009, CEO Lou Carmichael said.

“It undoubtedly has improved the quality of care,” Carmichael said. “You never lose a chart; charts are always there, and doctors can pull them up on their laptops to consult patients' meds and health history, when they take after-all calls.”

But the health care industry won't see the real value of electronic records, until the whole system is connected, Carmichael said. Then, Variety Care providers, for example, could see the details of a patient's last visit to the emergency room or cardiologist, or the results of his blood tests at a free clinic across town, she said.

Meanwhile, Carmichael and other managers are focusing on process improvement, including triaging pediatric patients on the phone calls with parents to make sure patients' needs can't be treated without an office visit — and extending clinic hours until 9 p.m. to make the greatest use of facilities and treat more patients.

Carmichael's biggest concern regarding health care reform is access.

“Just because more people will have coverage — whether through policies bought in new insurance marketplaces or the sharp expansion of the state-federal Medicaid program to include adults without dependent children — “doesn't mean they'll have access to care,” she said.

More and more doctors aren't treating patients with Medicaid or Medicare, Carmichael said.

“Since health care reform was passed, the focus has evolved to insurance reform,” she said, “But we need to get back to what the law is about, and that's access to primary care.”


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