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How do HIPAA and HITECH federal mandates affect health care information systems?
These laws and mandates are specific only to the point that Patient Information must be protected but they do not really offer specifics as to ‘how’ patient information must be protected. In addition, HIPAA and Hitech are now essentially requiring all hospitals and doctor’s offices to use EMR’s – Electronic Medical Records vice using just Paper records. There are many benefits to using an EMR vice using paper as we have information readily available world wide instanteously, but this can come at a cost where we can not ‘contain’ information as easily since much of the EMR’s are available through systems that are readily available on the internet.
So, at first patient information must be protect and protecting this information comes at a cost to everyone and these costs do get passed on to the consumer, or who we call patients. EMR’s are a huge investment for all those who use them as users and as end-users (the patients), but the convenience of using them can help of all in the long term benefit. So, for example when a patient checks into an Emergency room and that patient is unable to converse and give us any information, we can essentially look up that patients past medical records such as doctor notes, laboratory values, radiology records and this can help with the ultimate diagnosis and treatment of a patient. But, again, using this information in an emergency setting needs to be protected and careful because computers need to be protected and not open and visible for all to see when patient ‘screens’ are open, so doctor note taking areas should be in secure areas where only care providers have access.
The HiTech / HIPAA also does help in the long run with actually providing security – because emails, and FAX’s are less reliant and hence sensitive patient data is not open for all to see. Just a few years ago, we use to FAX paper records for patients to the hospital, or to other doctor’s and now with electronic medical records, these can be send securely to the intended recipient, and this has been part of the increased security that we are seeing across all EMR’s.
The cost of this HITECH does come at a price. The cost to institute these EMR’s can cost Thousands of dollars in a medical practice to Millions of dollars in a hospital. Plus, you have to take into consider the training involved in getting doctors, nurses and other providers so these systems can be used accurately and efficiently so mistakes are not made and forever permanently recorded in the medical record. So, for example to start an EMR from scratch in a 400 bed hospital can cost $10 million and keeping the system running with updates, new computers, etc can cost an additional $5 million per year so while there are very good benefits which increase patient safety, and increased efficacy to patient diagnosis, it does cost money and hence this increases the cost of medicine.