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Dwayne Edwards: Digitized medical records improving health care

AS we observe National Information Technology week in West Virginia, let's take pride in the ongoing efforts to transition from paper medical records to electronic ones.  

Nearly every hospital and rural health center and 1,000 plus health care providers across our state have made the transition to Electronic Health Records.  This is a significant undertaking and designed to improve patient care, enhance safety and reduce medical errors.  

It also lays the foundation for the ultimate goal - electronic exchange of a patient's health data and records.

All of these health professionals, clinics and hospitals have recognized the potential of electronic records, known in the office as EHRs, to provide better patient care, minimize medical errors, and eliminate duplicate screenings and tests.  For patients, widespread use of electronic health records means:

  • Greater and easier access to their medical data and records,
  • Less paperwork at office visits;
  • Reliable sources of information and reminders that will notify providers of important health interventions;
  • Convenient and safe e-prescriptions electronically sent to the pharmacy;
  • Online interaction and communication with doctors and hospitals; and
  • Electronic referrals to specialists.
  • The use of EHRs also can enhance routine medical care by reminding a primary care doctor about the timing of appropriate preventive services for a patient's general well-being or about specific issues related to managing chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and asthma.

    With more doctors and hospitals having electronic medical data, work also is progressing on the system that is allowing the secure sharing of patient data via the state's new health information exchange.

    Nine hospitals in state have already connected to this exchange, and other hospitals, clinics and doctors are looking to join in the coming years.

    Among the benefits of a statewide information exchange are:

  • A basic level of interoperability among different electronic health records maintained by individual physicians and organizations;
  • Better efficiency because of reduced paperwork, reduced medication and medical errors and the elimination of redundant or unnecessary testing;
  • More effective care and treatment because caregivers have better clinical decision support tools;
  • Better consumer education and patients' involvement in their own health care; and
  • Better public health reporting and monitoring.
  • Electronic health information systems can help enhance and speed care by ensuring that everyone involved in a patient's care - whether in a primary care setting, a specialists' office or emergency department - has access to the same information.

    Finally, more widespread use of these health information technologies will build a healthier future for our state and nation.

    In the not-to-distant future public health agencies will have new capabilities to look at general health data information and observe patterns. With this digitized data, they might be able to examine ways to reduce gaps in health, highlight ways to improve health care, and identify and respond quickly to public health emergencies such as disease outbreaks.

    Implementing these health information technologies has been a joint priority of two key organizations - the West Virginia Regional HIT Extension Center and the West Virginia Health Information Network.  Together, they are working collaboratively to revolutionize health care for our future well-being, safety and convenience.

    Edwards is Director of the West Virginia Regional Health Information Technology Extension Center in Barboursville. Learn more at ;


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