For years, doctors and medical professionals have proposed a paperless nationwide medical record-keeping system. In the small town of Clay City, patients have gradually seen their paper records computerized since 1992. Even in a rural area, where there’s an internet signal there’s health care.
In Clay City, a town of about a thousand people, medicine has come full-circle. Dr. Eric Beachy, a 30-something with salt-and-pepper hair and an easy bedside manner, has begun making house calls – a practice residents here wrote off as old-fashioned. But Beachy’s home visits are anything but that. In fact, today, the doctor is so focused on bringing his laptop computer that he almost forgets a low-tech tool – his stethoscope.
Dr. Beachy is visiting Ann Hummel. Hummel has lived in Clay City her entire life. Her home is comfortable, with a floral print couch and muted lighting. Hummel walks with a cane, but still gets around.
“I don’t really have to rely on this service, ” Hummel said. “But if the time comes whenever I could not get to the office, then I would most certainly take advantage of it.”
The clinic where Eric Beachy works, the Clay City Center for Family Medicine, relies solely on electronic medical records. So when he visits a patient, Beachy brings a laptop that connects wirelessly to a database back at the office. But in this rural area about 20 miles southeast of Terre Haute, finding that Wi-Fi connection is sometimes a challenge. Still, Beachy said, it’s better than carrying around a satchel full of charts and test results.
“When information is put into the electronic record, it’s accessible from anywhere that you need it and at any time,” he said.
The house call itself is routine. Hummel has her blood pressure checked and Dr. Beachy asks a series of questions designed to monitor her diabetes. When he’s done, Beachy can electronically fax a prescription to the patient’s pharmacy of choice. In part because of the medical records system, Beachy says med students who go through a residency in Clay City to train to become rural doctors often find themselves a resource in their first practice…
“Most of our graduates, if they’re going to a place that currently is not using electronic records, they’re going there hoping to change that,” he said. “Some of our graduates who I’ve talked to that are going to places that are currently using paper records and the docs at those practices are looking to our graduates and saying ‘You’ve used these electronic records, you know what things we need and don’t need. Help us make that transition.'”
The system also has the potential to save patients money. They can more easily be kept on strict medication and checkup regimens. Beachy says one of his patients – a bi-lateral amputee – needed to be transported by ambulance to the clinic for each checkup, and that costs of hundreds of dollars per trip. With house calls, the same patient can be seen at home for a small fraction of that cost. And if a medication is recalled, Beachy said, he simply by submits a query to the system and then can easily contact each patient taking it.
But even as technology is allowing house calls to again become commonplace here, there are stereotypes about the practice of medicine which seem destined to fall by the wayside. Beachy says as more offices move to electronic medical records, the days of criticizing doctors’ poor penmanship may soon be over.
“I don’t think my typing is any harder to read than anyone else’s,” he joked.