MIDDLEBURY — Dr. Maxine Fidler has long quipped about the legibility of her handwriting. Copious examples of it could be found in the individual files maintained for the approximately 200 patients in her growing Middlebury practice, Acorn Natural Medicine PLC.
Well, after nine months of after-hours work, Fidler has translated her scrawl-on-paper into what is becoming the universal language of physicians’ offices and hospitals throughout the state: Typed print and crisp charts securely stored and retrieved through a computer database.
Making the transition is a lengthy and expensive chore for hospitals and most health care practitioners, as they strive to be part of a paperless network through which medical records can be more easily accessed and shared with other providers with the patients’ consent.
Fortunately for Fidler the transition has only cost her some extra time at the office. She located a free, certified electronic medical records service to advise her on the collation, transcription and storage of her patients’ medical data. Nine months and a lot of typing and scanning later, Fidler has been able to go paperless. She can call up patients’ information from different locations with a few taps on the keyboard, instead of wading through files at her office.
“It is thrilling for me that it is no longer difficult, because not only is (the information) digitized, it is labeled,” Fidler said. “I can search by timeframe and by type of test. It is much easier to get the results much quicker.”
She can also respond more nimbly to her patients’ inquiries by being able to retrieve data outside of her office.
“I never have to receive a phone call again and have someone ask me something and have me say, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t have your chart in front of me,’” she said.
And the information flow could get even easier for Fidler and her patients. She said her electronic medical records system consultant (called “Practice Fusion”) should have a mobile application available before the end of the year. And Fidler anticipates her clients will be able to tap into their own records when a secure “patient portal” is created within her data network. This will also provide for a more secure e-mail avenue through which the physician and client can converse.
She will also look into “e-prescribing” to further use technology to her and her patients’ advantage.
Having computerized records, Fidler noted, will allow for easier sharing of information with her clients’ other providers (with the clients’ permission). Some of Fidler’s patients are dealing with chronic pain. She is often called upon to weave different techniques — such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, acupressure and dietary supplements — into a patient’s overall treatment plan.
“Logistically, what I have been doing is e-faxing to other providers in the system,” Fidler said. “It does make that easier.”
But the biggest joy for Fidler about the transition remains the ease by which she can call up documents.
“Especially with people who have very long, complex issues that have a fairly big chart, trying to find any lab that you want is much, much quicker electronically, than finding a piece of paper,” said Fidler, who can now either update a patient’s records in real time during visits or type her notes at the end of the day.
She sympathizes with the plight of hospitals and the larger practices now in the midst of digitizing their respective records. The Vermont Green Mountain Care board is cutting hospitals some financial slack in acknowledgement of the expense of computerizing records as part of the statewide health care reform effort, but the chore has been Herculean for some providers who need to get on the same page quickly.
“Now that it’s all done, I can say I feel privileged to have been able to do it myself,” Fidler said. “I think it gave me a unique perspective that maybe larger places don’t get because someone else is doing that part.”
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent