Health technology includes more than digital records

Digital technology will continue to reshape the practice of medicine in
Central Pennsylvania, even as national health care reform moves off the
front burner, according to health-technology users and vendors.

Digital technology will continue to reshape the practice of medicine in Central Pennsylvania, even as national health care reform moves off the front burner, according to health-technology users and vendors.

Electronic medical records draw the most attention. But as doctors’ offices digitize data, they eventually will demand better information technology systems all around, from security and storage to automated backup and disaster recovery,” said Kelly Lewis, president and CEO of TechQuest Pennsylvania, a regional technology group based in Harrisburg.

“This whole health IT industry and its growth will create very large opportunities for small and mid-sized companies because the industry itself is going to grow into the billions of dollars very rapidly,” Lewis said.

Growth will come as the health care industry upgrades its IT capabilities, Lewis said. Many information personnel in medical practices know little more than home computer users, Lewis said. They may turn on their malware protection, but they forget to check on it periodically.

Medical practices need a more businesslike approach, particularly given the regulations that cover them, Lewis said.

“You can’t rely on duct tape anymore,” he said. “You need a mature strategy.”

To prepare medical providers for the shopping expedition that lies before them, TechQuest created an online educational service called TechQuest Hub. The site seeks to match technology buyers and sellers.

“There’s a lot of knowledge exchange happening between the IT industry and the health care industry in terms of what they can do to complement (each other) and what they can do to help these things forward,” said Karen Sarabok, a principal of Momentum Inc., a management and IT consulting company in Camp Hill.

She and others said they see a need for companies to help medical offices make a smooth switch to the digital world. Consultants, for example, can help medical offices adopt technology without clogging existing work flows.

“This is not like Microsoft Office,” said Ravi Ganesan, president of Wayne-based Core Solutions Inc., which markets electronic medical records for behavioral health and human services providers. “The health care business right now is pretty complex, and providers need a lot of handholding to transition to electronic health records.”

The catalyst for the transition is an estimated $19 billion in incentives wrapped into last year’s federal economic stimulus bill. The money, earmarked to spur development of electronic medical records and other health information technology, does not depend on the passage of federal health care legislation.

Doctors may be nervous after hearing stories of botched transitions to electronic records, but even changeovers that go smoothly can experience a short-term drag, said Kent Whiting, vice president of information technology for Capital BlueCross, based in Susquehanna Township.

“A lot of times at the beginning of an implementation, they experience reduced productivity instead of increased productivity,” Whiting said.

He said he expects other technologies to come online more quickly.

Three years ago, Capital BlueCross unveiled an electronic prescription service in partnership with Virginia-based Prematics. The service, offered free to doctors in the insurers’ network, allows for the electronic transmission of prescriptions. At the same time, it checks for potential interactions with other drugs a patient is taking. About 1,000 doctors in the Capital BlueCross system now are writing e-prescriptions, Whiting said.

“I would say, in the next five years it will be a predominant technology used in physician offices,” he said.

Electronic health records might take more time to catch on, he said, but the field already has come a long way.

“I have seen a big change in the last five years,” Whiting said, “from it was sort of a glimmer in everyone’s eye that this stuff could get off the ground, to lots and lots of engaged people working very hard.”

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