Helping Provide the Electronic Rx for Health Records
Management School Wins Grant to Find Best Ways to Digitize Patient Data

Last year’s economic stimulus package paved the way for the creation of an electronic medical records (EMR) database. Now, the UT Dallas School of Management is going to play a significant role in helping doctors capture and store that information.

The federal government awarded an $8.48 million grant for the creation of a Regional Extension Center (REC) by a partnership formed between UT Dallas and The University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council and Research Foundation. The North Texas REC, which includes 43 counties in and around the Dallas-Fort Worth area, will offer technical assistance and guidance to healthcare providers and accelerate their efforts to implement EMRs.

“EMRs involve the electronic storage of all medical records at a particular site,” explained John F. McCracken, clinical professor of healthcare management at the School of Management and founding director of its Alliance for Medical Management. “It includes all the notes, everything a doctor creates for a patient.”

For that information to be shared between doctors, health information exchange sites must be created. Those sites will allow patient information to be stored in a single place. Advocates of EMRs say sites save time and money by preventing duplication of tests, enhance safety by preventing prescription of medicines that might interact with current medications, and provide instant access to a patient’s important information.

“It only becomes an EMR when you are able to share [that information] between sites,” McCracken said. “Hopefully, within five or 10 years, all Texas doctors will be on a health information exchange.”

The Bigger Picture

The U.S. now has 60 RECs, and the North Texas REC is one of four in the state. McCracken said the four Texas RECs will work closely together to “present as much of a unified face as possible to both vendors and the medical community.”

“Essentially, we are creating a common source for physicians in Texas to use,” he said. “This is a learning process, because this hasn’t been done before. But the government wants to see significant progress in the first two years. They want us to show that we have accessed 25 percent of the primary care physicians in our region by that time.”

The initial step is to reach out to physicians, McCracken said.

“Our target is to get 1,530 doctors to meaningful use in two years,” Mike Alverson, executive director of the North Texas REC, said. “It’s a very short time frame.”

“We want to become a trusted adviser to physicians,” McCracken said. “Secondly, we’re going to find and develop the technological talent to pull this off. We have to have the personnel in place that can make it happen.”

Finally, he said, the North Texas REC will help doctors learn to reinvent the workflow as they migrate from a paper-based system to an electronic one. Acknowledging that the transition will not happen overnight, McCracken said that UT Dallas has the expertise to further help physicians make the change.

“The School of Management has a well-established program for physicians,” McCracken said. “Training and development is what we do. We offer an M.S. in Healthcare Management, and our faculty knows about healthcare.”

Getting Up to Standards

The government has outlined specific guidelines for doctors to achieve what it considers “meaningful use” of EMRs, McCracken said. The portion of the 2009 stimulus package known as the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act allows non-hospital-based physicians who accept Medicare patients and who achieve “meaningful use” of a certified EMR technology to earn up to $44,000 in incentives from 2011 to 2016. Those with at least 30 percent Medicaid patients could receive up to $63,750 over six years, beginning in 2011.

Alverson said he believes that interest from the medical community will help drive the mission forward. “I feel there’s a real momentum that’s building,” he said, “and I expect in the next 24 to 36 months, there’s going to be an absolute tsunami of interest in this.”

“This is a learning process, because this hasn’t been done before,” said John F. McCracken, clinical professor of healthcare management.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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