by Marianne Aiello
Thirty years ago, physicians at the North End Community Health Center put down paper patient charts for good as the health center became the first in Massachusetts to begin using electronic medical records.
In 1981, the health center was chosen for a pilot program to adopt the then-new technology. No other community health center in the state was utilizing electronic medical records at that time.
“It was an exciting time because it was new, groundbreaking, and a pilot program,” says Diane Tanso, transportation supervisor at the health center.
Tanso was one of the four original medical transcribers who helped the health center transition from a paper filing system to electronic records. She remembers that simple things that we now take for granted—such as storing data on a hard drive—was revolutionary technology at the time.
The computer monitors took up half the desk, Tanso says, and the screen had a glowing green background. The back-up servers occupied an entire room and were the size of washing machines.
“We thought they were the greatest things, but now they would seem ancient,” Tanso says. “The electronic medical record was really made to the doctors’ specifications. They worked closely with the programmers to get it the way they wanted. It was a lot of work.”
Once the software was put into use, there was a brief transitional period when care providers would use paper charts in addition to the new electronic records. Eventually, paper charts were completely eliminated.
“Inputting information from the doctors’ notes was like magic,” Tanso says. “The hardest part was figuring out some of their writing.”
After the electronic medical record system was implemented, the North End Community Health Center received a great deal of recognition and interest from other hospitals and health centers—and even the United States Air Force.
“Doctors from other hospitals and health centers complimented it because everything was legible and neat,” Tanso says. “They were thrilled that the records were so detailed and clear.”
Now electronic medical records are commonplace across the country, but health center staff is still proud that they were among the first in the state.
“It was an exciting time because the program was unheard of—it was the future,” Tanso says. “The health center staff was united and incredibly motivated to work together to succeed.”
Today, North End Community Health Center’s current electronic medical record system helps keep patient information private and improves patient care by sharing data across the Partners HealthCare and Massachusetts General Hospital systems.