Doctors transition from paper to electronic records

Federal government requires doctors to make switch by 2015

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Transitioning from paper to electronic medical records has become a big priority for doctors and health institutions across the United States.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which President Barak Obama urged Congress to pass in 2009, requires physicians to make the digital swap by 2015, and provides incentives for them to do so.

The idea is to make medical records more seamless. But physicians like Martin Garcia, who has been practicing for 29 years, believe the change is more of a burden than an improvement.

"I went with EMR about ten years ago, but I did it for two weeks and quit because it was worse than it is now," said Garcia, an OBGYN.

Dr. Garcia said the learning curve is time consuming and can be confusing. The doctor said he and his office face twice the amount of work if the system crashes.

Dr. Dean Rottinghaus is the president of Medicfusion, an electronic health and medical records company. He said it's time for doctors to modernize.

"If you don't get on board, you're going to be left behind," he said. "They are not going to be part of the system. They aren't going to be able to play ball anymore."

According to Dr. Rottinghaus, the paperless system streamlines offices, eases the transfer of patient information between doctors, and cuts overhead. He admits that the switch can be expensive depending on the kind of program and there is a difficult learning curve.

"It is painful, it's painful, there is no doubt about that -- change is painful, especially in veteran practices," said Rottinghaus.

The federal deadline to transition from paper to electronic medical records is October of 2015. If physicians haven't switched by then, the federal government will begin cutting one to two percent of their reimbursements from Medicare or Medicaid.

Garcia considers the switch a growing pain he'd rather avoid.

"It is eventually what we are going to have to do, but not if [the government] didn't say, 'You have to do it in five years.' I'd say no -- not worth it," said Garcia.  

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