Located in Bundang, Gyeonggi Province, Seoul National University Bundang Hospital is paperless ― quite literally.
Here, kiosks and computers replace people and paper documents. All of the medical charts have been digitalized, along with the personal data of the patients. Visitors make reservations, pay and browse their medical histories through kiosks and smart devices.
Doctors and nurses know exactly how many hours ― or even minutes ― they have for each and every patient. Even during meetings and rounds, what they each carry is a smart tablet, not a pile of documents and pens.
The hospital is one of the major health care facilities in South Korea that is entirely "paperless" ― meaning it has a completely electronic medical record system, including data archiving and disaster recovery services.
Unlike the US and other countries, where hospitals are encouraged to adopt EMR systems by the government, hospitals in South Korea ― one of the most wired countries in the world ― are not required to go digital. But the number of facilities with the system has still increased dramatically here throughout the past decade.
"I think the achievement has to do with South Korea's contemporary culture, which is uniquely IT-driven," said Yun Jong-hoar, the medical information manager at SNUBH.
"(In this country), no one wants an unnecessary wait. Everyone has smartphones. Efficiency is one of the most appreciated values. (In any sector), the ideal is to have the maximized output with minimal cost and (human) resources. And the local medical industry has obviously been affected by such a culture and sense of value as well."
The South Korean government currently does not keep track of the number of hospitals with a complete EMR system because "there is no legal obligation for local facilities to do so," said Yoo Joon-young from the state-run Health Insurance Review and Assessment Service.
But according to a 2011 study by the Korean Society of Medical Informatics ― a nongovernmental research institute organised by medical doctors and scholars of various fields ― the adoption rate of EMR systems has greatly increased in South Korea, from 21.4 per cent in 2005 to 77.3 per cent in 2010. The use of EMR, as well as the use of clinical decision support systems has significantly reduced the number of medication errors, as well as the documentation and management costs here, according to the study.
In the US, health care facilities that switch to EMR systems by this year can expect to receive incentive payments totaling some US$2 million (S$2.5 million) or more through Obama's HITECH Act.
Hospitals that fail to adopt the system by this year or 2015 will face a 1 per cent Medicare reimbursement penalty. In spite of the government's efforts, only 3.2 per cent of more than 5,400 US hospitals have a complete EMR system as of this year, according to the nation's Healthcare Information and Management System Society.
SNUBH is the first non-American hospital to achieve the HIMSS Analytics Stage 7, an honour given to facilities with the highest Electronic Medical Record Adoption Model. There are currently 185 hospitals worldwide with the HIMSS Stage 7 honour, including SNUBH. Among them, 181 are American facilities, one is Chinese and two are European.