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Death in Committee

January 24, 2006
By: John Amick
State Capital Bureau
Links: SB 858

JEFFERSON CITY - A Missouri Senate committee got a firsthand demonstration on Tuesday regarding the current pitfalls of the medical system.

When a committee member was asked to read the name of a scribbled doctor's prescription, he was told his incorrect answer could have killed the patient.

"Right there you may have prescribed a medication for the wrong person for the wrong medical problem and you might have killed them," said Shawn Griffin, medical director for information systems at Heartland Health in St. Joseph.

Griffin said his company is working a number of clinics in western Missouri and Nebraska in developing digital record systems for health care providers.

Griffin testified to the Senate General Laws Committee Tuesday on a bill that would establish a state-funded grant program to assist health care providers in replacing their paper-record systems with digital ones.

"Technology is now feasible for small business doctors to implement," Griffin said. "Broadband Internet access is growing amongst doctors, helping eliminate broad paper trails."

Griffin said errors in things as simple as handwritten prescription notes can be fatal for patients. These errors cause the burden to be passed onto pharmacies due to their advanced databases.

According to Griffin, these technological improvements in medical records have not happened earlier due to the vast need of hardware and the lack of a uniform system to quickly enter information into a patient's record.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, said the bill will help protect patients.

"Allowing doctors to electronically prescribe medicine based on past records will be a major benefit to the system," Shields said. "Using tele-monitoring, patients' information can be transferred electronically to improve patient care."

George Carr, of the Jefferson City Medical Group, commented on a similar program instituted on a smaller scale at JCMG.

He said the records within their system are automatically backed up twice a day, decreasing the chances of losing information due to a computer system crash.

Another possible benefit of the funding plan includes the ability of patients to do a price comparison when researching the best prescription drug for their particular situation.

In his State of the State address, Gov. Matt Blunt endorsed the technology grant proposal and proposed a $25 million appropriation for the first year.

The committee took immediate action on the bill.