The questions are required
Saturday, July 30, 2011
Providing health care for all members of our community is the goal of medical providers, and it is certainly true at Wenatchee Valley Medical Center. However, a federally mandated issue has recently come up that I would like to bring to your attention. Although the policy is well-intentioned, a portion puts hospitals and physicians in a difficult position. I want to assure you that our mission at the Wenatchee Valley Medical Center is to provide all of our patients with the highest quality health care and service in a friendly and caring atmosphere.
Federal legislation, which began in 2008 under the Bush administration and passed again in February 2009 under the Obama administration, called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (including the HITECH Act) mandated that all hospitals and physicians use an electronic medical record system by 2015. There are additional requirements that physicians demonstrate “meaningful use” of the electronic medical record system, with penalties in the form of deductions from Medicare payments to providers if “meaningful use” is not in place by January 2015.
Wenatchee Valley Medical Center is spending $25 million in the first five years of this process to comply, because the tool will be helpful in improving the quality of care for the patients being seen on any given day, as well as for the community at large. In order to be federally certified that a physician is “meaningfully using” an electronic medical record, several useful items are required. Some examples are:
Measure the quality of patient care provided by reporting on 26 measurements of clinical care for specific conditions.
Record a patient’s history of tobacco and alcohol use.
Prescribe medications electronically and check these prescriptions to be sure the patient is not allergic to them.
Provide printed educational materials to patients about their health and conditions they may have, and after each visit provide a written set of instructions for changes in medications or treatment.
Maintain a list of each patient’s health problems, medications, and allergies.
Record weight/pulse/blood pressure at each patient visit with a physician.
Have a mechanism for electronic communication between physicians and their patients for questions, and communication of test results.
The regulations also asked for a recording of each patient’s gender, race, and ethnicity, as well as preferred language for communication. Use of the appropriate language with each patient is correct and proper, because it is needed for open, honest communication. At Wenatchee Valley Medical Center, as well as other medical groups and hospitals in North Central Washington that I am aware of, there is a conscious effort to avoid discrimination of any type. We are, in fact, by other federal legislation, prohibited from discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, transgender status, race, religion, disability, ethnic origin, national origin, age or marital status. We are all members of the human race and deserve to be treated with the same respect, dignity, and thoroughness in our receipt of health care. If this is accepted as “truth,” then what difference does a patient’s race or ethnicity make?
As a result of the legislation and recently released regulations, when you see a physician at the Wenatchee Valley Medical Center, you will be asked about your race or ethnicity, because we are required to. Our goal is not to discriminate against anyone, but we are required to ask. Please bear with us through this process. Our values of treating everyone in a fair and equitable manner are something we take very seriously.
Peter Rutherford is chairman and CEO of Wenatchee Valley Medical Center.
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