Will IT change how doctors treat you in 2010?

Telehealth tech could allow patients to be monitored wirelessly in real time

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In the first quarter of 2010, people in the service areas supported by AAA-affiliated EMS providers will be able to register and maintain unlimited access to a secure online account that holds their vital health information and up to 10 "In Case of Emergency" contacts. The service costs $5 a year, and users can maintain an account that's accessible by certified medics and dispatchers during emergencies.

When emergency care is needed, authorized EMS responders get temporary, read-only access to the information using a HIPAA-compliant search engine. If ambulance transport is required, medics can then generate text messages or e-mails to the person's designated emergency contacts.

Other online EHRs that will be accessible by both patients and doctors include the HealthVault program launched by Microsoft in beta 2007. The company removed the beta tag in August 2009. Also, Google Health, was launched last year.

HealthVault recently partnered with Kaiser Permanente and the American Heart Association on an accessible database of health information and some clinics are already using the sites as a cheap alternative to deploying their own EHR systems.

Federal health care dollars

Hospitals and doctors must begin rolling out EHR systems this year or risk losing federal reimbursement money that will be paid out next year. As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, about $19 billion in incentives have been earmarked for electronic health records (EHR) systems. The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act allows for payments of up to $64,000 to each health care operation that deploys an EHR system and proves it's being used effectively by January 2011.

Each year after that, the reimbursements through the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) drop, so it behooves hospitals and physician practices to roll out systems as quickly as possible.

Larry Leisure, managing director for Ingenix Consulting, said EHR systems will be the driving force behind many of the wireless monitoring technologies soon to be available.

"They create a longitudinal health record," he said. "One big benefit of EHRs is the e-visit. Imagine a patient and doctor having an e-mail conversation with bio-monitoring equipment transmitting data. They can have a conversation with shared information available to both. It enables patients and physicians to have a different relationship. Think about the cost avoidance in that."

The Alzheimer's Association recently unveiled a new Web-based application that works with mobile devices to track people suffering from dementia who wander off. The association's Comfort Zone service is powered by Omnilink tracking services and is the first comprehensive location management system designed specifically for Alzheimer's patients.

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