Electronic health records, or EHRs, have been around for nearly 20 years, yet most would agree that the US healthcare system hasn’t come close to realizing the potential benefits from EHRs. Some of this stems from justified concerns about patient privacy, and some is simply from a lack of ability to connect different medical records, known as interoperability. Widespread adoption and interoperability are critical to helping patients capture the benefits of EHRs over paper medical records.
The Early Challenges in Using Electronic Health Records
President Bill Clinton signed into law the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), bolstering patient rights on several fronts, including allowing people to transfer their health insurance when they change jobs (hence the name). HIPAA’s bigger legacy has been in regulating how protected health information (PHI) must be handled to ensure privacy. While EHRs didn’t exist when HIPAA was passed, the law still governs how patient data is protected and shared among authorized healthcare as EHRs have become more widespread.
From 2001-2011, EHR usage jumped up to 57%, especially with the passing of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. Now, patients and healthcare providers all over the country can make the most of the benefits of digitized patient information.
Electronic Health Records For Improvement of Patient Care
For healthcare providers and patients alike, there are many benefits that come from using EHRs. Most of the benefits are geared towards speed and efficiency.
- Medical transcription costs get significantly reduced because digitization of records eliminates the need for having to turn paper charts into electronic ones when they’re generated electronically in the first place.
- Health workers no longer have to spend as much valuable time pulling paper charts or digging through storage. In a similar vein, hospitals and healthcare providers no longer have to keep as much storage space for physical files.
- Documentation improves as well. It’s a lot easier to update records, and doctors are often better able to get patient information from past records (but only from those that are in the EHR system that they use). This leads to better health decisions, even if they aren’t 100% familiar with the patient. Say an individual gets rushed to a doctor who isn’t their primary care provider. If the healthcare facility has access to their EHR, the medical personnel there will be able to treat them as needed without missing any vital patient data. (Unfortunately, if the patient goes to a different facility that doesn’t use the same EHR system, they won’t get that benefit. Sadly, this is still all too common.)
- There is a significant decrease in medication errors because a patient’s medication, prescription, and treatment information are all found in one place and updated in real-time as needed. There’s even an improvement in maintaining the treatments because medical personnel can keep a better eye on them.
- Clinicians can get a better look at patient data. By carefully assessing the past and present changes in their condition, they can provide better treatment options.
- Patient satisfaction can improve with the use of EHRs, as well. Because medical personnel can better care for the patients and take into account their medical history in the most updated manner, patients may be discharged faster or be able to connect with their doctor by phone or video, known as tele-health.
- Doctors and medical personnel also benefit from EHRs through improved medical practice management. It’s easier to schedule appointments and update patient files when the EHRs are readily available. It’s even easier to give a referral or get a consult from another specialist if patient data gets promptly provided to someone who could be better suited to treating the patient.
- Communication improves with clinicians, laboratories, and health plans as well. There is easy access to patient information, messages relaying lab requests and results are faster, and even formulary checks can get done automatically.
The digitization of patient records and the widespread use of EHR has provided many benefits for both patients and healthcare providers. While there is still a long way to go to fully realize all the benefits of EHRs, the potential is clear.
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