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Federal Stimulus Funds Bring Electronic Medical Records to Ohio

More Ohio doctors' clipboards will soon be replaced with electronic tablets, thanks to $53 million in federal stimulus funds. A statewide electronic health record system will eventually be part of a national system. Many say the new health record databases will improve patient care and reduce errors leading to malpractice claims, while others worry about privacy and security.

Two state agencies will receive the money to establish a statewide medical records repository. Once the system is up and running, doctors, hospitals and other medical personnel would all be able to access and update a universal database of patient records with the system.

The federal government has advocated better electronic health records for many years. The 2009 stimulus bill includes $19 billion for computerized systems nationwide. President Obama expects the measure to save money in the long run while improving the quality of care.

Proponents say the new records will make doctors' notations more legible and organized, and will minimize the risk of dangerous drug interactions. They also hope that the new electronic systems will allow doctors to spend more time with each patient. Studies have shown, however, that the computerized systems may save time for nurses and assistants, but are less efficient for physicians.

Some also suggest that the improved communication within and between facilities may help reduce mistakes and medical malpractice claims. A 2008 survey of doctors who had adopted electronic health records found a slight reduction in malpractice claims, but not nearly enough to provide any definitive answers.

Those opposed to the move to electronic medical records cite privacy and security concerns. The Institute for Health Freedom, which advocates for health care privacy, worries that patient records will be widely shared without patients' consent, and there is no obvious way to opt out of the system.

If all goes well, Ohio's electronic records system will be in place by the end of the year. It will then cost $28.5 million and take about five years to shift the state's medical facilities to the new system.

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