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Doctors slowly make digital leap

n a world transformed by digital data, doctors appear unscathed - collecting tons of paper charts and scrawling their prescriptions in a chicken scratch that only nurses and pharmacists can fathom. Physicians have been slow to convert to electroni...

n a world transformed by digital data, doctors appear unscathed- collecting tons of paper charts and scrawling their prescriptionsin a chicken scratch that only nurses and pharmacists canfathom.

Physicians have been slow to convert to electronicrecord-keeping, even though health care experts say that digitalpatient records bring greater efficiencies and productivity whileimproving patient safety.

Many hospitals across the United States have also lagged inadopting these new technologies. Nursing homes and ambulancesystems have been the slowest.

But a growing number of health providers in the St. Louis areaare scrapping their paper charts for electronic records. Some hopeto not only cut costs but also to cash in on federal incentives todigitize.

Under last year’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, theU.S. Department of Health and Human Services is setting aside about$20 billion in stimulus money: up to $44,000 per physician whomeets the government’s criteria for investing in electronic patientrecords. Eventually, there will be penalties for doctors who failto switch over.

In five or 10 years, experts say, electronic medical recordswill be swiftly sent between hospitals and medical offices, whosecomputer systems, as of now, cannot communicate.

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