Vermont to take part in medical record privacy program

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(Host) The state of Vermont has been chosen to participate in a national program to address privacy concerns that are associated with electronic medical records.

Health Commissioner Doctor Paul
Jarris says it’s critical to get this system up and running as soon as possible.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The grant program is being organized by the National Governors Association. Individual states participating in the program will receive between $250,000 and $350,000 to focus on ways to securely transmit electronic patient records within the medical community.

Jarris says the establishment of a national network will improve the quality of care for many patients:

(Jarris) “I would frankly say it’s a matter of life or death. There are bad outcomes every day in health care today because information that is needed is not at the point that it’s needed. Paper charts are lost, they’re misplaced, they aren’t in a hospital where the patient goes. So I think that we need, in order to provide an appropriate level of care and in fact save lives, to have an electronic system. So in my mind this is not a matter of, ‘Should we do it?’ This is a matter of how do we do it in way that provides proper security and privacy.”

(Kinzel) Jarris says one of the challenges facing Vermont is designing a system where these electronic records can be accessible to most doctors and hospitals:

(Jarris) “So that we have data sharing, so that the data actually follows a patient wherever they go, rather than residing only in one doctor’s office or only in one hospital where the patient may not have access to it and the doctor may not have access to it if they’re cared for in a different situation.”

(Kinzel) Some people are concerned that the development of an electronic medical records system will create significant security problems for many patients. Jarris believes the proposed system will actually provide more security than the current paper system.

(Jarris) “If somebody goes into a hospital or doctor’s office – let’s say a cleaning crew, a maintenance crew, a painting crew, maybe they’re a vendor – they can always take a peak at that chart. An electronic system, unless they have the appropriate access to it, they cannot see it. And anyone who enters the system to take a look at the record, the time, the date and who entered the system gets recorded. So there’s a way to find out who actually looked at that data that doesn’t exist for the paper system.”

(Kinzel) The participating states will meet in March of 2007 to discuss their various security proposals. This project is one of Jarris’s last assignments in state government. He’s leaving his post on Friday to become the director of the National Association of State Public Health Commissioners in Washington, D.C.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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