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Sansum Clinic Enacts Policy to Ask for Patients’ Race, Ethnicity

Clinic says recording the data will help it qualify for federal funding for a paper-to-digital conversion

Patients of Sansum Clinic recently may have noticed a new question being asked of them as they arrive for appointments. Effective Dec. 1, the clinic is asking patients to state their race and ethnicity, and though they have the option to decline, the move has generated some buzz.

The policy change isn’t the result of the new federal health-care law, but of a project the clinic has undertaken with hopes of receiving federal stimulus funding. It will be converting its paper medical records to digital files, and while Sansum expects to spend about $7 million to complete the process, it hopes to recoup much of the cost of the transition by following meaningful use standards from the federal government, which require asking about race and ethnicity.

Sansum officials say recording race and ethnicity can have an influence on a patient’s overall treatment course, and can have medical implications outside of just complying with federal standards.

Racial and ethnic derivations have implications for an individual’s health care, according to Dr. Erno Daniel, who specializes in internal medicine and geriatrics at Sansum. Blacks are more prone to high blood pressure, he said, while Native Americans are more likely to have gallbladder disease and gallstones, and Hispanic Americans have increased propensity to diabetes.

“Racial disparities in health care have been highlighted in medical publications in the recent past,” he said. “Our physicians are sensitive to this, and treat all patients equally, with enhanced attention to conditions which their ethnic derivation may predispose them to.”

The clinic didn’t collect any race or ethnicity data before the move, which has prompted a few questions from patients.

“Some patients have questioned why this is necessary,” said Jill Fonte, Sansum’s director of marketing. “It seems like once people realize that there is a link between their race and ethnicity and one’s health, it hasn’t been a problem.”

The race and ethnicity information is added to the patient’s medical records.

The paper-to-digital conversion will take place during the next two years, according to Fonte. It will involve two phases, and the first will begin at all of the clinic’s sites next month.

Providers will begin documenting patients’ allergies, medications and immunizations, as well as medical history and active health-care issues, Fonte said. The next step involves implementing what the hospital is calling “the Wave,” a computer system that allows doctors to enter prescriptions and test orders directly into a computer terminal, which can then be distributed electronically.

“All exam information, including vital signs, medications and progress notes, will be recorded in the Wave,” Fonte said.

The transition is expected to be complete by the end of 2012.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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