Massachusetts announces EMR launch

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Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (D) this week announced an initiative that would convert medical records to easily shared electronic medical records (EMRs) across the Bay State, a move that has great potential to save Massachusetts millions of dollars while improving patient safety and quality of care.

Romney set ambitious goals for the state's conversion to EMRs, saying he would like to see them adopted in the majority of the state's hospitals over the next five years. By keeping medical records electronically, physician groups, health centers and other healthcare providers will be able to exchange patient information more easily, Romney said.

The initiative is the efforts of a group that formed in September - the Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative (MaeHC) - a non-profit governing entity that represents 34 of the state's key healthcare stakeholders, for leading the EMR push. Romney praised the project's goals and also noted that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts has pledged up to $50 million to enable the collaborative to expand electronic health records across the state.

The eHealth project will begin as a pilot program in three yet-to-be-selected communities. The collaborative said it will immediately begin accepting applications from communities interested in piloting EMR technology. The sites will be announced in March 2005 and will serve to develop operational and financing models to facilitate the statewide adoption of these technologies.
   
Analysts say that moving to an EMR environment can save lives and money. Estimates indicate that as many as 98,000 people in the country die each year because of medical errors. In addition, medication errors, which studies have shown to be largely avoidable, claim approximately 7,000 lives each year and are responsible for another 770,000 injuries.

Currently available technology could save up to 30 percent of the $1.6 trillion spent nationally on healthcare each year, according to studies.

"Universal implementation of EMRs will yield a quantum leap in the quality and safety of patient care," said Micky Tripathi, incoming Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative CEO.  "The technology exists today, but we need to get it into the hands of healthcare professionals so they have the information and tools they need to do the best job possible."

Tripathi said medicine is one of the few business sectors yet to embrace electronic information technology, mainly for a lack of financial incentive and the difficulty of making computer systems compatible. Tripathi said Massachusetts could become the first state in the nation to have a statewide electronic medical record system. He said Indiana has launched a similar pilot program, but Tripathi said it doesn't have the funding or the industry support that exists in Massachusetts.

Tripathi said hospitals and doctors have had no financial incentive to invest in an electronic record-keeping system that primarily benefits insurance companies by keeping costs down. Now that an insurance company is making an investment, that concern could be allayed, he said.