In February 2011, 61-year-old Beth Jones was feeling faint. She therefore made an appointment with her primary care physician — an internist at Summit Medical Group in Westfield, N.J. — to see what was wrong. “She found a nodule in my thyroid and sent me to an ear, nose and throat doctor in the same medical group,” says Jones, who requested her real name not be used. “I went o see him with my husband and he said it was thyroid cancer.”
Within 10 days, Jones saw three specialists and encountered scores of nurses, administrators
and technicians. It was turbulent, confusing and scary — but ultimately successful, according to
Jones, who is now well and attributes her health in part to her doctors’ use of electronic health
“The annoying thing about going to doctors is you have to fill out all these forms every time
you see them,” Jones says. “With electronic health records, you don’t have to do that.”
EHRs improved not only the convenience of care, but also the quality. “Everybody was very
focused on me,” Jones continues. “The doctors knew everything about me and communicated
with each other. In fact, my internist was getting reports from the ear, nose and throat doctor
and the cardiologist. She called me up and said, ‘I know you’re going through a lot right now,
but I promise that when the process is over you’re going to be fine.’ I didn’t call her and tell her
what was going on; she checked my records and called me.”
Although they’ve been around since the 1960s, hospitals and medical practices have been
slow to adopt EHRs, which are electronic patient records that store health information digitally so
it can be easily updated, shared and accessed by physicians at different points of care. In fact,
only 6. 3 percent of U.S. physicians currently use a fully functional EHR system, according to a
2009 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
To the benefit of patients like Jones, the Chicago-based Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society wants to change that. An association that’s dedicated to improving health
care through the use of information technology and management systems, its goal is eventually
achieving 100 percent adoption of EHRs to improve both the cost and quality of health care.
When the federal government passed legislation in 2009 that would take it one step closer
to its goal, HIMSS therefore reacted with lightning-fast reflexes. The result — one of the largest
outreach efforts in the history of the organization — created education, influenced conversation
and shaped regulation in pursuit of a “tipping point” for EHRs and health IT.
Health care is as much about healthy economies as it is healthy individuals. When the Great
Recession commenced in September 2008, that became immediately and completely clear,
according to HIMSS Vice President of Government Relations Dave Roberts, MPA, FHIMSS.
“In the early to mid-2000s, people began to realize that IT was extremely important and
could help transform health care by improving the quality and reducing some of the costs,” he
explains. “The Bush Administration put a lot of thought into how IT could be used to transform
the health care system, but they made a conscious decision not to put any tax revenue into
jumpstarting the adoption of electronic health records.”