Clear communication is important in any field of work. In medicine, however, it is literally vital. Enter electronic health records. Also known as EHRs, these digital medical charts provide numerous benefits to both patients and healthcare employees, as they provide a common platform for storing, referencing and exchanging patient information. Despite their popularity, however, their benefits are not as widely known.
The Significance of EHRs
The increase in the use of EHRs came as a result of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009. Part of a larger national stimulus package, the act was signed to foster an upswing in the technology’s use. With their interconnected nature, EHRs now signify a departure from outdated systems, both electronic (but office-isolated) and paper-based.
EHRs are often confused with electronic medical records, or EMRs. Their key differences lie in how each is used. EHRs:
- Are digital versions of a patient’s chart, plus tools designed to enhance care.
- Provide medical information that is streamlined and updated in real time.
- Enable patients’ medical information to move along with them as required.
- Provide tools to medical personnel who can assist them in medical research and decision making.
In contrast, EMRs:
- Are much more limited in function, only containing information on a patient’s health.
- Are mainly used to diagnose and treat patients.
- Are not designed to be shared outside a provider’s individual practice or to travel with a patient.
Benefits of EHRs
Better Patient Care
The benefits of EHRs are both meaningful and numerous, according to Becker’s Hospital Review. Most obviously, EHRs reduce physical paperwork, which allows providers to spend more time with patients and less time storing files, searching for charts and sifting through data. When it comes to making and organizing patient files, EHRs also lessen the chance of human error.
EHRs also provide tools to improve the quality of treatment, including:
- Enabling physicians to place orders electronically
- Notifications about dangerous drug interactions
- Promptings for preventative health screenings
- Programs that facilitate revision and co-signing notes between assistants and physicians
- E-messaging tools for providers
EHRs also provide increased accessibility to patient files. Because they are computerized, EHRs can be easily accessed by healthcare providers at all times and across locations. If patients visit an emergency room that is within their healthcare provider’s network, the providers in the emergency room will be able to access their medical records and understand the patients’ medical histories and any medications they currently are taking. Switching doctors is also easier because it is easier to transfer full medical records.
Although the benefits of EHRs cannot be denied, like all advancements, they come with problematic elements.
One major issue raised is that of data security. Having medical records be electronic leaves them vulnerable to data breaches. To combat privacy and data breach concerns, policymakers have enacted legislation to both strengthen privacy laws such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and increase the rigor of punishment for those who violate appropriate conduct. Risk Management and Healthcare Policy cites an example of three Arizona hospital workers who were fired after inappropriately accessing medical records of several victims in the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. In addition to more vigorous enforcement of existing laws, Risk Management and Healthcare Policy also points to the critical importance of a built-in audit function. This function — standard in all EHRs — allows system operators to monitor individual access to all EHR pages.
The concerns that come with the integration of IT into healthcare do not end with issues of access. Often, EHR systems lack interoperability. To share these records, all systems must be connected. Visiting an out-of-network provider, for example, means that records may not be able to be accessed.
Other IT issues include the initial and ongoing costs of set-up and maintenance, the inability for doctors to communicate personal nuance in e-messaging, continuous need for system and database updates, and glitches like auto-population of data fields, which can potentially lead to serious risk of accidental malpractice.
Managing the Future of Healthcare
As medical tools change, the way that healthcare providers practice their work must as well. Shorter University’s online MBA with a concentration in Healthcare Management provides students with the skills they need to become leaders in the new frontier of healthcare.