Physicians and other health care providers are overworked. The number of patients seen daily has grown dramatically in recent years. In fact, according to a 2012 survey by The Physicians Foundation, 40.7% of American physicians see over 20 patients a day. Such a large caseload presents many opportunities for errors, miscommunication, and omissions. Electronic health records (EHRs) can provide a solution for these issues.
What are EHRs?
Simply put, EHRs are health records in a digital format. They usually contain all the data of a traditional paper chart plus billing information, imaging and records across different institutions. EHRs allow instant centralized and secure access to patient data. Some of the benefits of EHRs are described below.
One of the main benefits of EHRs for healthcare providers is the physical space they save. An established doctor’s office traditionally has rows and rows of patient files. On average, those files are stored for 10 years, even for inactive patients. This takes up large amounts of space that could otherwise be utilized.
Speedy Access Anytime a doctor needs to work on a case, a nurse or secretary has to find and pull the patient’s chart. Since this usually happens dozens of times a day, the time spent can rapidly add up. EHRs eliminate this issue by using a simple interface. Patient data is pulled up almost instantaneously simply by typing a name, medical record number, or date of birth, allowing office staff to attend to other duties.
Outside reports are also available more quickly. For instance, if a patient’s primary care and hospital are on the same EHR system, then information about a hospital stay will be available to the primary care through the EHR. There’s no more waiting for a fax or mailed letter.
As mentioned above, all patient imaging and reports can be stored in the EHR. So, a physician can easily bring up a MRI or lab results without having to call outside their office. Also, EHRs have all patient history consolidated in a single database, so conditions or procedures done many years ago can be easily stored and accessed.
EHRs don’t just store medical history. The patient’s social history, contact information and insurance information are all readily available. For example, a dentist with a new patient can easily check that patient’s individual dental insurance records through an EHR to see if veneers will be covered.
In a recent report, researchers at Johns Hopkins announced that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States. EHRs can help prevent these mistakes. Most EHRs provide a safety net in the form of drug interaction and drug allergy alerts. If a provider tries to prescribe amoxicillin to a patient with a penicillin allergy, the EHR will remind the provider of the allergy. Additionally, since EHRs track information across different providers, accurate continuity of care is ensured. For example, a surgeon would be able to see which leg has cellulitis by looking at primary care records in the EHR, even if the problem is not apparent on exam.
These days there is widespread concern about data security and identity theft. In The Physicians Foundation survey cited above, over 47% of the responding physicians reported they felt EHR systems did not adequately ensure patient privacy. However, if used correctly, EHRs can be much more secure than paper charts.
All EHR systems use password protection and most encrypt any information transmitted outside a provider’s office. As long as staff remembers to always lock their terminal or device, patient information remains safely behind a password.
EHRs are certainly the future in the healthcare field and present several major improvements over traditional filing systems, both for patients and providers. When both of these groups embrace EHR, they reap the benefits of speed, accuracy, and security.
About the author:
Greg Dastrup is a world traveler and professional writer with a passion for learning new languages. He’s spent most of his career consulting for businesses in North America. You can follow Greg here.
(Originally published on May 13, 2016)