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Mizzou Engineering faculty member anticipates health information technology improvements

Mizzou Engineering Associate Professor Chi-Ren Shyu discussed electronic health record system improvements during a recent panel on public health.

Technology that would allow hospitals throughout the nation to share electronic health records already exists and soon will be in widespread use, a Mizzou Engineering faculty member said during a recent discussion on public health.

Chi-Ren Shyu, a computer science associate professor and director of the MU Informatics Institute, said computer compatibility, privacy and security issues frequently prevent the electronic exchange of health information among caregivers. Database and organization design differ among each of the world’s 200-plus manufacturers of electronic health record (EHR) systems, blocking medical record retrieval, he said.

But new federal legislation calling for government funding of health care information technology will pave the way for improved care and increased efficiency within a decade, Shyu said.

“That is very, very good news for the entire health care system,” Shyu later added.

Shyu spoke during a Feb. 6 seminar series entitled “A Time for Change: One World, One Health, One Medicine” sponsored by the University of Missouri’s vice chancellor for research and held at the Reynolds Journalism Institute. He joined representatives of six other university and state agencies involved in public health in the panel discussion as well as morning lecturer Gary L. Simpson, a former medical director of infectious diseases for the New Mexico Department of Health.

Simpson emphasized during the panel discussion the vital role information management can play in controlling infectious diseases. Doctors often lack access to material that would help them understand the nature of a patient’s health problem and catch an outbreak at its inception, Simpson said.

The problem is twofold, Shyu said. Many hospitals, such as those in rural areas, may still keep handwritten paper medical records due to the cost of electronic health record systems, he said. And even if a hospital’s records are in digital form, chances are that differences in EHR systems prevent information exchanges, Shyu said.

But Shyu contended that the funding included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 would clear away such obstacles within a decade. The $19.2 billion set aside in the legislation for health information technology will help create a system interconnected enough to allow a “light speed response” to an infectious disease outbreak, Shyu said.

The act, approved Feb. 17, contains Medicare incentive payments aimed at encouraging physicians to adopt interoperable electronic health records and become meaningful EHR users by 2014. It also calls for reducing Medicare payments to “non-EHR physician users” starting in 2015.

While Shyu voiced optimism that plans to reap the benefits of effective health record technology—widely considered to be the key to higher quality and less expensive health care—he cautioned that the effort has a long way to go.

“There are a lot of barriers in between the technology and real implementation,” he said.



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