By JEFF MEYERS
---- — PLATTSBURGH — The physicians and staff at Eye Care for the Adirondacks have completed a two-year project to upgrade their offices to a completely electronic-records format.
The move helps the office meet federal regulations for moving toward an electronic medical-records system, but it has also improved the facility’s health-care services while giving patients a better understanding of their own health care.
“The federal government mandated that health providers go to electronic-record keeping, or they will take away in the future a percentage of Medicaid money,” office manager Faye Martineau said of one of the financial incentives Eye Care had for making the switch.
“We knew it was time to jump on the bandwagon and meet certain criteria (for using electronic-medical records in the practice).”
With every physician in the practice who was able to incorporate the electronic system, Eye Care for the Adirondacks would receive $18,000 from the federal government to help pay for the cost of switching over to an electronic format.
Nine physicians have completed the transfer, netting $162,000 for the first year, and the practice will continue to receive smaller increments in incentives over the next few years as long as they remain in compliance.
The cost for software and hardware to complete the switch exceeded $500,000, and that does not include the cost for training the facility’s 80-plus staff members, Martineau said.
The switch to electronic-medical records goes well beyond financial incentives, however.
“One big advantage is the improvement in quality care for our patients,” Martineau said. “When the doctors do certain tests, the results go right into the patient’s electronic record, and the doctor can share the results with the patient on the computer screen.”
For instance, optical coherence tomography is a relatively new procedure that scans the optic nerve to help determine treatment options for glaucoma. With four optical coherence tomography machines in the practice, doctors can receive immediate results and share those results with patients to initiate treatment.
The new system also simplifies the process for obtaining lab work. In the past, doctors had to forward lab work to the hospital and wait for results via fax. Now, lab-work results come back through the electronic system instantly.
Eye Care for the Adirondacks is now a part of the Healthcare Information Xchange New York and can access patient medical records from other physicians participating in the program.
This is very beneficial in the treatment of patients with such conditions as diabetes, since ophthalmologists can access blood work and prescription records of their patients, Martineau noted.
“If a patient comes in and doesn’t know his hemoglobin levels, we can look in the patient summary for that information,” she said.
The practice began the switch over two years ago and went live with its first physician on board, Dr. Kjell Dahlen, in January 2012. Then, another doctor was added to the system every four to six weeks until the entire practice became electronic by the end of the year.
“It was a huge endeavor,” Martineau said of the project. “It’s amazing what it offers us now that it’s up and running.”
Karen Champagne, clinical supervisor for the Plattsburgh office, said the new system has benefited all who use it.
“It’s made our work easier,” she said. “Now we don’t have down time looking for a patient’s charts. Everything is accessed immediately.”
Having the ability to send prescriptions to the pharmacy electronically also cuts down on the potential for mistakes in reading hand-written prescriptions, she added.
Staff was initially concerned about the complexity of switching over, but the process went smoothly and without difficulty, Champagne said.
“From a patient’s perspective, it is easier for physicians to share information on the patient,” added Dr. Robert Raut, an expert in retina procedures at the practice. “If a patient goes to Florida for the winter, it’s easier to send a more reliable assessment (if needed by another doctor while the patient is away) than by photo copy or fax.”
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