July 30, 2014

Future of Healthcare

Electronic Records: 'A Long Way to Go'

Most providers see electronic records as inevitable and useful, but some think the biggest initial payoff will be for the IT industry.

Mike Vogel | 5/1/2010
Leon Medical Centers Training
Doctors learn how to use electronic records systems during a training session at Leon Medical Centers. [Photo: Daniel Velasquez]

In June, after three years of preparation and a $15-million investment, one of the nation’s best-regarded healthcare operators, Leon Medical Centers, a Medicare provider to 34,000 in Miami-Dade, will fully launch its electronic healthcare records system. “It is going to be an extraordinary, revolutionary type of system,” says CEO Benjamin Leon III.

Electronic healthcare and medical records are supposed to usher in a new era in medicine, which professionals say is still a Stone Age industry when it comes to information technology. Everyone from the president on down says electronic records will improve care, save money and enable everything from detection of disease outbreaks to robo-calls reminding grandpa to take his pill.

Benjamin Leon III
Benjamin Leon III
“It holds tremendous promise, but we have a long, long way to go,” says Bruce Rueben, president of the Florida Hospital Association. At present, systems are hodgepodge. Some healthcare providers have systems that don’t link their billing and clinical sides; others have systems that can’t communicate outside of their offices. Adoption has been slow. Just 13% of the small-office physician practices — those with with fewer than five doctors — have implemented electronic records because there’s no return on the average $40,000 investment. To goose adoption, Congress last year funded up to $27 billion in bonuses to Medicaid and Medicare providers to be followed by penalties under Medicare in 2015.

Initially, the biggest winner will be the IT industry. Companies are lining up to play. Nova Southeastern University in Davie has 120 students in its master’s program in biomedical infomatics. Big Bend Regional Health Information Organization in Tallahassee has 340 doctors representing more than 450,000 patients on its med record exchange platform. Miami IT company IOS Health Systems was the first in the nation to apply, and the first to win a perfect score, in the Obama administration’s certification standards process for electronic health records systems. Doctors who choose a certified system can be eligible for stimulus funding to implement electronic records. Andrew Carricarte, CEO of IOS, has signed 400 doctors covering 350,000 patient records. Meanwhile, Clearwater-based Tech Data in March announced a new support program for vendors selling IT in healthcare.

Some question whether the nation will actually realize any savings. Two Harvard faculty members who voted for Obama say the Rand study upon which Obama based his estimated $80 billion a year savings projection was “wishful thinking.”

Leon Medical, however, says cost savings are almost beside the point. Leon is unique in that it coordinates transportation to its offices for patients, their care and in-house pharmacies that are busier than chain drugstores.

“The main goal of our system is just not about cost. It’s about quality and service to the patient,” Leon says.

Tags: Healthcare

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