Most patients are, by now, used to seeing their health care providers put notes into a computer during office visits. Although the shift from paper-based to digital systems has taken much longer for the healthcare industry than others, U.S. hospitals and clinical practices were given a boost in adopting electronic records as part of the 2009 Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. The HITECH Act set the goal of improving overall patient care by providing clinicians timely access to all the information they need for better diagnoses and patient outcomes.
As of 2014, 76 percent of U.S. hospitals had already adopted a basic electronic health record (EHR) keeping system1. But for hospitals and clinics to take full advantage of the benefits that electronic records can provide, they must move beyond just inputting basic patient information into systems where that information becomes a critical part of managing patient care at all levels. By transitioning to a fuller EHR model, clinicians and patients can expect to realize a number of benefits:
Comprehensive view of the patient – Providers should strive to have dynamic patient-centered records that track the care continuum over the person’s lifetime, in sickness and health. Having a single, continuous record for a patient provides a holistic view of overall health for better diagnosis and lifetime treatment.
Better coordination of care – With digital records, clinicians can more easily coordinate and track patient care across practices and facilities. For example, the Mayo Clinic2 offers a “one-stop care” system that provides the services a patient needs—office visits, testing, surgery, hospital visits—under one roof so services can be coordinated and scheduled over the course of a single visit, rather than time-consuming multiple visits. Clinicians across specialties and disciplines also collaborate on patient outcomes as a team to ensure better care.
Sharing information – The ability to share information across disciplines, specialties, pharmacies, hospitals and emergency response teams as well as have on-demand access to charts via mobile devices allows for better and more timely decision making, particularly in critical situations.
Streamlined workflows – EHRs increase productivity and efficiency while cutting down on paperwork. Patients and staff have fewer forms to fill out, leaving clinicians with more time to see patients. Referrals and prescriptions can be sent quickly, cutting wait times for appointments and pickups. Automatic reminders can tell patients when it’s time for annual checkups or alert them as they approach milestones that require regular screenings. With integrated patient tracking, billing and insurance claims can be filed in a timely manner.
The power of data – Continuous data collection allows for greater personalization of care, allowing providers to address health issues in a preventive manner. Also, ‘big data’ analytics and aggregated patient data may be able to alert providers to larger health trends such as potential outbreaks and which flu strains are prominent during each flu season.
Greater efficiency and cost savings – Digital records and integrated communications methods can significantly cut administrative costs, including reducing the need for transcriptions, physical chart storage, coding and claims management, as well as facilitating care coordination and reducing the time it takes for hard-copy communications among clinicians, labs, pharmacies and health plans.
Reducing error – Digital records allow for better tracking and more standardized documentation of patient interactions, which has the potential to reduce error. With digital paper trails, illegible handwriting in clinicians’ notes or prescriptions is no longer a problem and coding for procedures or billing is easier. Integrated systems can also be set to flag drug interactions and other indicators of potential harm.
Used to its fullest potential, electronic health record keeping will improve patient care. Healthcare providers will be able to spend more time on treatment instead of tracking records. Electronic health record keeping will also allow healthcare providers to detect patterns and share information in ways that were not previously possible, and that can lead to faster, more effective cures.
Charles, D., Gabriel, M., Searcy T. Adoption of Electronic Health Record Systems among U.S. Non-Federal Acute CareHospitals: 2008-2014. ONC Data Brief, no.23. Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology: Washington DC. Retrieved 11/11/15 from https://www.healthit.gov/sites/default/files/data-brief/2014HospitalAdoptionDataBrief.pdf.
Mayo Clinic. Why Choose Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 11/12/15 from http://www.mayoclinic.org/patient-visitor-guide/why-choose-mayo-clinic.