Tampa, FL (April 19, 2010) -- The University of South Florida (USF) will help doctors across West Central Florida move towards electronic health records, with the support of a $5.9 million grant in federal stimulus funds, university and political leaders announced last week.
"The University of South Florida is the leader in healthcare and technology in the state of Florida and now is one of just a handful of universities across the entire country that is providing this leadership role," said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, who helped secure the money awarded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The project will not only improve health care delivery, but help the Tampa Bay region's economy, said USF President Judy Genshaft. "With Congressman Kathy Castor's support, USF has now stepped into the lead," Genshaft said. "We are one of the first regional initiatives in the nation to invest recovery dollars in a whole new professional work force combining health and information technology."
The project, PaperFree Florida, will help doctors transform how they care for patients, said Dr. Stephen Klasko, dean of the USF College of Medicine and CEO of USF Health.
"The revolution is starting here in Tampa Bay," Dr. Klasko said. "That revolution is about transformation and job creation. Transforming health care into a non-paper, decision-supported way of doing business so that...We're not writing things down on pieces of paper and hoping that people get it right. It's about quality and safety and it's about job creation."
USF Health will use the grant to hire and train "e-ambassadors" to visit doctors' offices across West Central Florida. They will help doctors use and adopt electronic health records, acting as a resource to make doctors' transition to modern records simpler.
Electronic health records improve patient safety and can make health care more convenient for patients by allowing for such services as delivering electronic prescriptions directly to pharmacies. However, doctors across the country have been slow to move to the electronic age, in part because of the difficulty of selecting and learning to use new systems.
USF Health's e-ambassadors will help bridge that gap.
"We're like the primer coat of paint for these doctor's offices, and then they can go and flourish from there," Dr. Klasko said.
USF Health began work on this initiative a year ago with the launching of a pilot program, PaperFree Tampa Bay. Last summer, medical students visited doctors throughout Tampa Bay, teaching them how to use electronic records and learning from them what they would need to use electronic records successfully.
Now, with the stimulus funds, PaperFree Florida will train 100 people to perform a new type of job that combines both information technology and health. As those people enter the Florida workforce over the next four years, they will help shape the state's new knowledge economy.
At the news conference announcing the grant, Dr. Hugo Navarte, assistant professor of medicine at USF Health, demonstrated how electronic records can provide faster, more accurate information about their patients.
"I can make much more informed decisions and provide better quality of care," said Dr. Navarte, who began using electronic records a few years ago.
Before the switch, for example, if a patient of another doctor called with a medical question on the weekend, and Dr. Navarte was on call, he would have few choices about how to help that patient. Either he would have to come into the office to review the patient's records or rely on the patient's memory. Now, he can access those records remotely.
Electronic medical records also can make medicine safer. They can prevent mistakes when pharmacists misread the names or dosages in handwritten prescriptions.
They also can stop a doctor who is, for example, about to prescribe penicillin for an infection to a patient with a penicillin allergy, said Dr. Lennox Hoyte, chief medical information officer of the USF Physicians' Group.
Still, Dr. Navarte and Dr. Hoyte said that in order for most doctors to use electronic medical records, the technology must improve.
"It's hard work for doctors," Dr. Hoyte said, and entering information electronically can take longer than writing it down.
"One of the jobs we also have in front of us is to figure out how to make EMRs more responsive to us as physicians so we can get the job done, the data entered, just as fast as we see patients," Dr. Hoyte said.
Jay Wolfson, professor of public health and medicine and associate vice president for health law, policy and safety, said the PaperFree project also has possible applications for public health studies.
USF will "go to physician's offices, to hospitals, and to clinics not just to install technology, but to work with them to understand how the...clinical information can better be used to improve the health status of communities," he said.