Enterprise Software

Medical industry slow to go tech

If you're a technical person looking for a career in medicine, then the growing field of Electronic Medical Record systems might be for you. In this Tech Watch, Bob Weinstein looks at these systems and the technical skills EMR companies are looking for.


Dr. Mark Deis is way ahead of the majority of his noble profession. The 36-year-old section head of pediatrics at the Cleveland clinic of the Independence Family Health Center in Independence, OH, has built technology into his pediatric practice. You’ll find no charts in his office scrawled on in illegible writing that only nurses and pharmacists can decipher. Instead, Deis has a computer in every exam room so that patient information can be entered into his clinic’s Electronic Medical Record (EMR) software.

But Deis is in the minority. Only 60 percent of the 45-person pediatric staff at the clinic use computerized record keeping, he says. In 1998 (the most current statistics available), the American Medical Association surveyed physicians and reported that only 16 percent have an electronic patient medical record system in use at their practice. Even if you estimate that number to have grown slightly over the last few years, it’s still surprising and rather scary.

You’d think physicians would be thrilled with the concept of EMR. But along with having computer-phobia, the average physician also doesn’t have the time to learn EMR software. All the more reason why companies like Noteworthy Medical Systems (Cleveland, OH), Medscape (Hillsboro, OR), Cerner Corporation (Kansas City, MO), Pediatric Software International (Piscataway, NJ), and dozens of other smaller companies are creating user-friendly—make that physician-friendly—EMR software.

Since the medical field requires that mountains of patient information be kept current and accessible, more EMR systems are cropping up each year. It’s another growing career niche for techies, especially for experienced programmers who want to break into the medical field.
The medical industry is a classic example of a sector that has been slow to adopt new information technology. Other industries that have lagged behind include insurance companies and the media. While they may face special challenges, CIOs working in these sectors often find they can make exceptional contributions to the growth and efficiency of their enterprise.
How does your industry fare in the adoption of new information technology? Share your experience by posting a comment or send us an e-mail.
Each company in the EMR niche boasts unique software capabilities. Noteworthy’s software, for example, can be customized to any doctor’s practice. For pediatric practices, the company offers 60 patient-information templates so that all pertinent medical information can easily be recorded and retrieved. Deis says it took him about two weeks to comfortably master Noteworthy’s software.

Pediatric Software International’s software can be mastered in only five minutes, boasts its president and founder Dan Frieling. An experienced programmer, Frieling designed his EMR software when his pediatrician wife complained about recording immunization records for her patients. His software is designed only for pediatric practices. Rather than installing software in a physician’s office, however, Frieling uses the Application Service Provider ( ASP) model of hosted software that’s rented monthly. The ASP offers more programming options and can be updated easily without expensive software upgrades.

Along with hard-core geeks like Frieling, EMR companies need people with medical backgrounds (nurses, physician’s assistants, technicians) who understand technology and can help salespeople promote it. The biggest challenge for EMR companies is finding candidates who have both a medical and technology background.

Job titles vary at EMR companies. Perhaps the most pretentious job title is Noteworthy’s Medical Knowledge Author (MKA). MKAs are intermediaries between physicians and programmers. Marty Frygier, Noteworthy’s manager of medical knowledge, says it’s a tough job to fill. Frygier, a former medical technician comfortable with computers, was hired as an MKA. “The MKA interviews physicians to find out about the kinds of information they gather so templates can be customized to their needs,” he explains. Once customized, the MKA trains physicians and their staffs to use it. “Ideal candidates have worked in a medical facility and are self-taught techies with some programming experience and understanding of C++, Java, and Web site design,” Frygier adds.

Another career path for techies interested in the medical field is to work for hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare providers maintaining EMR software. Like the EMR companies, healthcare facilities also prefer to hire people with both a medical and technology background. “More often than not, they have to settle for someone with a couple of years of IT experience,” says Ted Elliott, CEO of Jobscience, Inc., a healthcare job portal in Oakland, CA. “It’s usually a low-level manager of information systems (MIS) job that is an excellent stepping stone to an administrative position. It can also be a great learning experience. Since there is a shortage of skilled IT people, hospitals often foot the bill for certification.”

To learn more, check out the Medical Records Institute, Coding Institute, and the companies mentioned above.

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