June 24, 2010

Electronic Health Records Crucial to Monitoring Gulf Spill Health Effects: Masys

Electronic health records are essential for monitoring the health effects of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a Vanderbilt University expert said Wednesday during an Institute of Medicine workshop in New Orleans.

Yet only about 1.5 percent of U.S. hospitals have fully adopted this technology in a comprehensive way, said Dan Masys, M.D., professor and chair of Biomedical Informatics and a leader of Vanderbilt’s “personalized medicine” initiative.

To encourage the adoption of electronic health information over the next six years, the federal government will begin offering Medicare and Medicaid payment incentives to doctors and hospitals in 2011.

In an interview following his presentation, Masys said the oil spill provides “a special opportunity … to compress that, and actually make the Gulf region a model of accelerated deployment” of electronic health records.

Not only could the Gulf serve as “a model region for coordination of health management and health outcomes,” he said, but accelerated use of electronic health records could become “the infrastructure for health care of the 21st century that persists long after the Gulf spill.”

Masys called for the creation of a “Gulf Region Health Information Exchange,” which would share and rapidly disseminate data among health care providers to improve coordination of care and health outcomes.

“The principal benefit of having an electronic medical record-based infrastructure is that you can look for the things that you know you need to look for, but you can also see patterns that nobody is expecting … (and) recognize something new that has never before been reported as a toxic effect,” he added.

A webcast of the two-day meeting will be posted on the Institute of Medicine website (www.iom.edu) next week.

Bill Snyder