New Jersey became the first state to mandate a move toward electronic health records in January. Legislation to create a 19-member commission to oversee the transition from paper was sponsored by Representative Herb Conaway, a Princeton graduate who is both a doctor and an attorney.

Now two area professionals are among the members of the new commission: Stephanie “Stevie” Davidson, president and CEO of Health Informatics Consulting of Belle Mead, and Helen Oscislawski, an attorney with Fox Rothschild’s Lenox Drive office whose specialties include health care law.

The commission is to jump-start a conversion to computerized patient records by doctors.

Davidson has made a business of consulting with doctors, hospitals, and health systems who are struggling with ways to make the switch from paper to electronic health records — individual patient medical records maintained in digital form.

It’s not an easy process, and widespread adoption of electronic health records continues to lag as low-tech, paper-based files remain the norm in countless physicians’ offices. A report published this summer in the New England Journal of Medicine found only one in five of the nation’s doctors using electronic health records.

“It’s an urgent and even a dangerous problem when a field as vital as healthcare is yet to implement the kind of information technology that most of us take for granted,” says Davidson. “The same doctor who uploads his or her child’s soccer schedule into a Blackberry still has to break out a pencil and paper to note a patient’s vital signs or to prescribe medication. Physicians strive to offer state-of-the-art care, but in terms of information technology, the healthcare industry is still far behind.”

Reasons for making the switch from paper include reducing medical errors, speeding up diagnosis and treatment, and helping contain healthcare costs.

One reason frequently given for sticking to paper is that it can be more difficult to ensure privacy when records are kept and transmitted electronically. This is one issue the newly-appointed members of the healthcare technology commission will attempt to resolve as they work on Governor Corzine’s mandate to provide every resident with a personal electronic medical record.

Health Informatics Consulting, 66 Ichabod Crane Lane, Belle Mead 08502. 609-925-9008.

Fox Rothschild, 997 Lenox Drive, Building Three, Suite 301, Box 5231, Princeton 08543-5231; 609-896-3600.

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