This isn’t the way electronic medical records are supposed to work–but it's often the reality.
Columbus Regional Hospital saw wait times in its emergency room double after it began using electronic records in late June, according to the Associated Press. Even now, despite lessening, wait times are longer than usual.
The hospital about an hour south of Indianapolis is switching to computer-based record keeping to meet requirements of the 2009 stimulus bill, which projected $38 billion in Medicare incentive payments to health care providers achieving “meaningful use” of electronic records as early as 2011 and then penalties for those that don’t by 2015.
Medicare is the federal health insurance program for seniors—the largest health program in the nation.
Electronic medical records have been shown to help reduce wait times and stays at hospitals, and to avoid some common medical errors. But often they sap time as medical staff members try to familiarize themselves with the systems.
"When you are writing on a piece of paper that you've used for as long as you have been here, you can do it quickly. When you move to electronic, the staff had to be very careful to make sure they did things accurately," said Carolyn O'Neal, director of nursing at Columbus Regional.
Patients at Columbus Regional typically wait about 2-1/2 hours to receive care. But the week of the switch, those times jumped to nearly four hours and 15 minutes for acute-care patients and nearly four hours and 45 minutes for less severe patients, according to O'Neal.
Jason Palmer, the emergency department nurse manager, said patients with life-threatening conditions, such as chest pain or stroke symptoms, were seen immediately.
But patients with ankle sprains, sore throats and earaches tended to wait longer.
Wait times at Columbus Regional have come back down to nearly 2-1/2 hours for patients with serious but not life-threatening conditions, but are still more than three hours for less severe patients.