Docs vs. e-records

If electronic health records are so crucial to improving citizens' well-being, avoiding medical errors and saving money, why aren't more physicians rushing to clear their offices of cramped shelves bulging with paper records?

Proponents of electronic medical records said maybe it's because physicians don't stand to benefit financially from lower national health care costs and a healthier population as much as, say, health insurance companies.

"I'm not saying any physician is perverse, but they get more [income] the sicker you are," said Pat Wise, director of electronic health record initiatives at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, a group that advocates the use of information technology to improve health care.

A nationwide conversion to electronic health records, which Bush administration officials support, undoubtedly would save insurance companies money by eliminating redundant procedures and unnecessary hospitalizations, said Dr. Robert Kolodner, acting deputy chief information officer for health at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

But getting to that point, he said, will require that insurers, including the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, share their savings with private-practice physicians and other health care providers.

"To stimulate the adoption [of electronic health records technology], that savings has to be shared because the provider has a cost — upfront," Kolodner said. "It slows them down when they first get it, and if they don't order procedures because they were already done and they have the results, there's a tendency to think of it as lost income."

Big Brother needs your phone number

With terrorism on many people's minds, General Services Administration officials are planning to collect personal contact information on essential GSA employees to create a database that could be used to reach those employees during an emergency. The roster would be known as the Emergency Management Information Database. GSA officials are seeking comment on the plan to collect employees' home addresses, e-mail addresses, wireless and home phone numbers, and out-of-area contact numbers.

Only authorized individuals would use the information in the event of an emergency, according to a recent notice in the Federal Register. The information also could be used by federal, state or local officials investigating a case or by a federal agency issuing a security clearance.

The database would be protected from snoops, and paper records would be placed in locked file cabinets. Federal officials are promising GSA employees that they would be able to check their records for accuracy. As for changing the information, which might include your former spouse's phone number, for example, well, that's another ball of wax.

Absent but not absentee

In yet another indication of the Web's essential role in this year's election, there is a Web site for the 7 million overseas U.S. voters to learn about how they can vote.

John Kerry campaign officials sent an e-mail this month to supporters, letting them know about the Web site,

Whomever you support, overseas voters who want to vote this year need to act quickly. Some of the deadlines may have already passed.

Turn down the heat

As if Office of Personnel Management officials didn't already know enough about federal employees, they are conducting another survey to ask what workers think makes a successful organization. The survey was sent to OPM employees and will be distributed governmentwide by mid-October.

In 2002, OPM officials surveyed 200,000 employees. More than half responded. Agency officials said the new survey is confidential and will provide general indicators of how well federal officials are administering human resources management systems. And we're sure fed workers will be happy to lay it on the line.

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