An Overview: what are electronic health records (EHR)?
Maintaining and storing each patient’s medical history can be quite tedious for healthcare professionals, given the copious amount of data that has to be organized and updated. Not to mention, today’s medical consumers want quick access to their medical data and information without having to visit a physician’s office. This has rendered it necessary to integrate digital solutions that alleviate the need for rows upon rows of cabinets, chockfull of paper files, and health staff exasperatingly rifling through mountains of paperwork to find the information they seek. This is where electronic health records fill in the gaps.
An EHR is an electronic version of a patient’s medical history that includes clinical data compiled by a particular provider pertaining to a patient under care, such as demographics, progress notes, diagnoses, medications, treatment plans, allergies, immunizations, laboratory data, and test results. EHR is the next step towards improved collaboration and relationship between patients and clinicians. The increased accuracy and availability of data helps caregivers and healthcare professionals make better decisions in critical situations without missing a heartbeat. EHR goes beyond simply storing a patient’s data in a digital format; EHR provides a centralized system where multiple organizations share secure information about a patient, so that physicians can make sound decisions and recommendations about a patient’s care.
Pros and Cons of Electronic Medical Records?
Pros of Electronic Health Records
Hands down, there are numerous benefits of electronic health records, such as:
Improved Patient care
Most people wonder how does EHR improves the documentation! While the traditionally illegible handwriting of physicians can lead to confusion and errors stemming from misinterpretation of transcripts, computerized records are easier to read and lead to improved accuracy of documentation. Not to mention, with all the information pertaining to a patient stored under one roof, practitioners can start treatments immediately and make better point-of-care decisions. EHRs also make it easier to track and implement preventive care. A fully integrated system allows physicians to treat patients faster, offer a more accurate diagnosis, and manage medication in a better, safer way.
EHRs allow clinicians to have more organizational efficiency. Electronic health records lessen the chance of malpractice due to improved documentation. Every healthcare facility the patient visits will be able to interpret their medical history and personal information without any effort, which can also cut down the need for pharmacy callbacks and clarification. The implementation of HER also facilitates collaboration between partners and other providers, and transfers all the available data to a billing system that streamlines the front-office processes.
Less Consumption of Resources
EHRs translate into fewer paper forms, less chance of duplication or unnecessary lab orders, and more efficient medication management. With all of patient medical history and information under one umbrella, the need for paper forms becomes almost non-existent.
Giving Patients More Access
Most EHR systems incorporate a patient portal which helps patients wishing to access their medical records or even type in their own information instead of filling in redundant details on multiple stacks of paper forms on each visit. Patients no longer need to visit the doctor’s office or make unnecessary calls every time they want to renew their prescription, check out a treatment plan, or find out the results of a lab test. Electronic health records greatly enhance patient satisfaction by improving continuity of care and cutting down the turnaround time for addressing patient’s queries. Features like e-Prescribing, where patients receive their prescriptions electronically instead of having to visit a physician’s office, go towards drastically improving the patient experience. EHR systems also identify at-risk populations to ensure patient safety.
Like all computerized systems, EHR systems are also not immune to hacking attempts. After the massive data breach of Anthem Inc. in 2015, in which nearly 80 million records were leaked, there has been a rising concern among patients regarding the safety of electronic medical records. Hackers can even install malware on a medical organization’s servers and hold all patient data hostage against a hefty ransom. The imports of private medical information falling into the wrong hands could be significant.
A huge Financial Constraint
EHR implementation is not an overnight process. The process could take anywhere from a few months to an entire year and can cost a healthcare facility a fortune. Some organizations have incurred tens of thousands of dollars in installation as well as the cost and time needed to train the users on the new system. Organizations also have to guarantee patient safety during EHR implementation to make sure that precious medical data does not get destroyed or lost during the transfer.
How Do Electronic Health Records Improve Patient Care?
75% of providers report that their EHR allows them to deliver better patient care. Here’s how?
Access to More Information
EHR offers physicians comprehensive information about each patient in formats that were hitherto unimaginable. For instance, doctors can view graphs of variables such as weight, hypertension, and blood cholesterol over a specified period, and manage changes over time. This would allow physicians to prevent and manage chronic diseases as well as devise more accurate prevention and screening maneuvers. Since these Electronic health records are accessible by all physicians, they can use them to improve the quality of clinical research and rapidly inform clinical decisions. EHR systems often incorporate advanced analytic features such as the ability to generate population groups and keep track of drug trial participation, which can improve the speed of the research cycle. The unhindered access to point-of-care data also provides valuable information to physicians, which can help with practice level intervention.
EHR and Patient Safety
Electronic medical records and patient safety go hand in hand. Time is of the essence when we talk about the healthcare industry. Integrated portals and scheduling systems decrease the wait time for patients. Not to mention, Electronic medical records give providers vital information regarding a patient’s health history, including allergies, lifestyle risk factors, drug indications, past surgical events, lab test results, as well as any information that is necessary to form an accurate and reliable diagnosis. Especially in the emergency departments, EHR provides clinical decision support about treatments, and overall courses of action for their patients. EHR systems can even advise on the best treatment as well as make suggestions about the latest drugs to reduce clinical errors. For instance, EHR data can help physicians administer the right drug to a patient with life-threatening allergies, or even provide the doctor with complete medical history on an unresponsive patient in the ER.
Improved Care Coordination
Throughout their lifetime, a patient may visit a number of healthcare facilities and see multiple providers from cardiologists, ophthalmologists to family doctors and oncologists. This includes infrequent visits to the ER, which adds more data to a patient’s medical record. The benefit of EHR is that it prevents fragmentation of a patient’s medical records and makes sure each new healthcare provider in the patient’s chain of care sees a complete picture of a patient’s overall health. EHRs eliminate many of communication and decision-making barriers that physicians face when confronted with new patients and serves to improve collaborative care. Clinicians can now collect and analyze patient data in advance, alleviating a new patient from having to retell his whole treatment story.
Preventive Disease Management
EHR helps physicians prevent and manage different diseases better by identifying important screening examinations a patient must take, for instance EHR can identify patients who haven’t received mammograms or cancer screening. Early intervention makes sure that life-threatening diseases are detected early on so effective treatments can be administered. This drastically improves quality of life for patients since timely intervention can lower the risks of certain diseases.
Another area where EHR improves clinical outcomes and overall efficiency is by reducing the number of duplicate tests. Electronic health records are updated with the latest lab test results as well as radiology results, which can be accessed by any physician involved in the patient’s chain of care. Since they can see which tests have already been conducted, they can move forward on the treatment plan rather than get those tests repeated.
Clinical Decision Support
An EHR system goes a long way towards supporting patient safety, including clinical decision support systems. These systems aggregate all relevant patient data in one place to support a clinician’s care strategy and fortify decision-making at the point of care. For instance, they can offer comprehensive details on the patient’s medical adherence, set reminders for queries physicians should ask at the next appointment, set alerts to check for known risk factors, raise alarms in case of treatment prescriptions that would result in adverse events, and even set screening reminders for biomarkers. Based on the patient’s medical history, these systems also offer recommendations for healthy changes to improve a patient’s quality of life
What are the most common medical errors in hospitals and how to prevent them by using EHR?
Patient care is prone to life-threatening errors, such as medication errors. When a person frequents more than one specialist for various health conditions, they can inadvertently withhold vital information which may result in adverse drug interactions, dangerous side effects caused by a specific patient’s medical history unbeknownst to a new physician, incorrect dosages, and even wrong prescriptions. Fortunately, this issue can be prevented with the use of EHR technology which can alert to potential drug interactions. According to research, EHR systems can lessen medication errors by over 50%. These systems reveal all the pre-admission medications as well as the patient’s total medical history including allergies and look for possible adverse reactions with the suggested new drug.
Repetition of lab tests is another area where EHR can help. Different physicians may prescribe the same tests to the patients, which has an impact on clinical efficiency as well as monetary ramifications. An EHR system keeps tabs on consultations, prescriptions, and radiology and lab results that help reduce medical errors. These systems store completed lab reports and can even be used to check whether the results fall within normal ranges.
What are the main differences between traditional paper records and electronic records?
Perhaps the biggest difference in electronic health records vs. paper records is that of ease of sharing. Paper records are typically stashed away in huge warehouses and the process of retrieving them from filing cabinets, making copies, and sending them to the relevant authorities can be a cumbersome job. With electronic medical records, medical professionals can quickly access comprehensive data about each patient. No matter how many physicians a patient is concurrently seeing, they can all garner access to updated patient data, which significantly reduces medical errors. Not to mention, as opposed to the physical space taken up by paper records, electronic medical records can be stored in the cloud, allowing the use of fewer resources.
How does EHR improve communication?
Most EHR systems are integrated with patient portals which can be accessed round the clock. These portals enhance collaboration between physicians and patients and reduce turn-around time responding to billing and clinical inquiries. Patients can view their lab test results, e-prescriptions, and treatment plans without having to visit a doctor’s office. An integrated scheduling system automates appointment scheduling which can significantly save time.