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Digital Files Put Medical Records at Doctors’ Fingertips

New technologies now allow doctors and hospitals to keep electronic health records, but the U.S. has been slow to switch formats. Susan Dentzer reports on the advantages and difficulties that some hospitals are facing in their efforts to digitize medical records.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now, bringing medical records into the 21st century. Susan Dentzer has our Health Unit report. The unit is a partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

  • SUSAN DENTZER, NewsHour Health Correspondent:

    Winona, Minnesota, on the banks of the upper Mississippi. You might not expect this rural community of 30,000 to be at the leading edge of technology, but when it comes to health care it is.

  • DR. CHARLES SHEPARD, Winona Health Community Memorial Hospital:

    Less pain, no nausea, which is an improvement.

  • SUSAN DENTZER:

    Dr. Charles Shepard is medical director here at Winona Health, the city's only hospital. He's part of an effort to vault U.S. health care into the modern era of information technology.

    In the old days, Shepard would have been shuffling through a sheaf of paper to read a patient's medical record. Today, he's doing it by computer.

  • DR. CHARLES SHEPARD:

    We have an ultrasound, a gallbladder yesterday, and I can see the report here. Thin walls, no stones.

  • SUSAN DENTZER:

    Moments later, when Shepard visits the patient, suffering from an inflammation of the pancreas, he has all the critical information at his command.

  • DR. CHARLES SHEPARD:

    You know, the two pancreatic enzymes that we're tracking, amylase was 620 when you came in, and it's down to 130. We've never had so much information at our fingertips as we do right now.