Southern Colorado Hospitals Leading the Way on Medical Record Conversion

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With the push to make hospitals and health care providers more efficient, southern Colorado hospitals are leading the way in converting paper medical records into electronic files.

St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center in Pueblo has one of the first fully-implemented systems in the state, and is ready to get their doctors comfortable using it. "The next step her have is to put our physicians in front of a computer, and ask them to enter their orders and write their progress notes on the computers," says Dr. Louise Schottstaedt.

Schottstaedt says, all departments in the hospital are already operating within the system, making it easier and faster for doctors to access up-to-date patient information. No longer will they have to wait for test results to be sent to their department, or order new ones because they didn't arrive in time.

Once the system is fully operational, those benefits will extend to all of the Centura Health Care's 13 facilities across the state. If a Centura Health patient injures themselves in a car accident in Denver, medical professionals there won't have to wait for the patients files to be found and faxed.

Key questions about current medications being used, allergies, or medical history will be answered without the need for the patient to even be conscious. It has taken eight years, but Schottstaedt says, she can see the end of the tunnel. "I feel that all we've been doing is laying the groundwork and now, finally, we will reap the rewards in the next year to 18 months," says Schottstaedt.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Parkview Medical Center is taking a different approach to reaching the same goal. Instead of implementing the software first, they are starting with the doctors. "If you picture a physician who has done paper for 20 years, and all of the sudden it's electronic; it's not an easy conversion," says Steve Shirley, Chief Information Officer and Vice President for Information Technology at Parkview.

Shirley says, they are preparing to implement a new system that is waiting for government approval. Once it's approved, the transition is expected to occur relatively rapidly. Several departments at the hospital have already turned the paper documents into electronic files, or are in the process of converting them.

Regardless of where the hospitals stand on their readiness to implement the federal mandate of all-electronic files, both hospitals are ready to secure some of our most personal and vital information.

Medical records will be encrypted in four different stages, and then only be made accessible through security protocols to those with granted access. "When we make this data available to other providers; maybe it's another hospital, maybe it's a lab, maybe it's a doctors officer somewhere; whoever is accessing it we can, to the best of our ability, identify they are the person who should have access to the data, and it's encrypted while it's in its various forms of life so that we can ensure that their information is not just out there on the streets," says Shirley.

Still, few systems are fool-proof, and as has been shown with other data related fields, electronic data can be vulnerable to thieves. Even so, Shirley says, it would be easier for someone to pick up a paper file and start making copies than it will be for someone to hack into the system and steal information.

That being said, the potential theft of data can be much higher when it's electronic data as opposed to paper files. "In a paper format, it's difficult to take a large number of files. They can grab information on any one person, or two or three or four. In the electronic format it's much more serious for us to protect it, because if somebody could successfully hack us, they would have access to more records. So that's why we take data security infinitely more seriously," says Shirley.

In the end, many health professionals believe the reward of treating sick people faster, better, and cheaper, outweighs the risk of the possibility of personal information theft, given the security measures expected to be used.