Commentary: Alaska takes a step forward in electronic medical records

This editorial appeared in The Anchorage Daily News.

Two bills just approved — one federal, one state — are expected to give Alaska's seriously behind-the-times medical industry a giant push forward. Until now, doctors and hospitals have been creeping toward converting to electronic records and prescriptions. This move to electronic medicine is expected to produce faster, better, cheaper care. With easy access to a patient's history and medications from another city, for example, a doctor can make an accurate diagnosis more quickly, with fewer tests.

But it's a huge and expensive project to convert stacks of paper records and scribbled prescriptions into a seamless electronic system.

The multi-faceted federal stimulus bill is here to help.

Alaska gets about $25 million from the bill, assuming Gov. Sarah Palin accepts it, to develop a secure statewide health information exchange system – the hardware and software that will allow hospitals and doctors to exchange information with each other.

The state Legislature helped out by voting to put in another $2.5 million and passing a bill telling the state Department of Health and Social Services to put out a contract and set the system up.

Nobody knows how much the exchange will cost, said deputy state health commissioner Bill Streur. That depends on how many systems tie into it, he said. But $27 million is enough to move it well along, he said.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Anchorage Daily News.