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In a move to streamline medical records, Medicare officials have detailed plans to standardize medical files so they can be stored and delivered in comprehensive electronic files.
Announced by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the proposed standards are aimed at helping release $19 billion in federal stimulus funds. The standards are expected to be developed over a period of several months. The program is designed to coax the medical establishment to move away from paper files and to pave the way for currently incompatible files to be accessible in standard formats.
"Widespread adoption of electronic health records holds great promise for improving health care quality, efficiency, and patient safety," said the Health and Human Services Department's David Blumenthal in a statement. Blumenthal is the health department's national coordinator for Health information Technology.
Hospitals and doctors who adopt the program's new standardized software would receive bonuses for using the software. The existing patchwork of paper files and incompatible electronic files has caused many segments of the medical delivery system to hesitate to move to new electronic systems, because no meaningful standard exists. The CMS hopes to pave the way to a workable standardized system though stimulus funds.
There is widespread belief that standardized electronic medical files will improve medical delivery to patients and cut costs as well. A recent study of healthcare executives carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers found they believe the information contained in electronic medical records will become the heath care industry's most valuable asset, once the data becomes accessible.
The CMS proposal calls for at least 80% of patients requesting an electronic copy of their heath records,to receive the copy within 48 hours.