Recently the Obama administration issued a direct warning to healthcare providers against “gaming the electronic health records system” to falsely claim reimbursement funds. That message came through loud and clear. I’d assert there’s another one, just as important.
Don’t give up on the technology, stay focused on the end game.
It’s a fact that the potential of EHR technology is set to accomplish the mantra, the mission of every hospital I know: better patient care. While the technology, its implementation, and adoption is still quite nascent, the data and information available to doctors will ultimately save lives. It will help identify patient complications before they happen; decrease the number of hospital re-admissions; reduce patient safety events; compile data to change and improve treatment for chronic disease, and so much more.
And while much of the communication around EHRs has been about how digital records will improve workflow for providers, there are also undeniable benefits for healthcare consumers. The end game for EHRs looks like this from a patient perspective.
Quality and consistency from provider to provider
According to a recent report from the Institute of Medicine, 20 percent of patients reported that their test results or medical records weren’t transferred to another medical institution in time for an appointment, and 25 percent said their doctor had to re-order tests to have the correct information for diagnosis.  With EHRs, that will change. As you move from primary care physician to specialist to emergency care and so on, you no longer have to repeatedly fill out forms, have duplicate exams, lab tests, or even explain your symptoms to multiple care providers – your health history, medication history, lab results, family and social history and vital statistics all move with you once your provider joins a Health Information Exchange.
Simplified, error-free prescriptions
Instead of handing you a prescription on a piece of paper that can be lost, misread or stolen, your provider will send an electronic prescription directly from the point of care to the pharmacy. Both physicians and pharmacists automatically receive alerts of any potential adverse drug interactions.
Less complications, hospital re-admission
In the unfortunate event you are admitted to the hospital, new analytical tools, like Xerox’s Midas+ software suite, continuously track the information your caregiver enters into the EHR, and sends alerts when any of thousands of possible changes in your condition happen simultaneously – such as an increase in temperature or low blood pressure, combined with various lab and radiology results. This information can then be used to inform your caregiver prior to a decline in your condition. These same tools track data on when and why patients are re-admitted, helping hospitals design specific programs to reduce unnecessary return visits.
While many Americans are concerned about the security of EHRs, the fact is we’ve been trusting banks to store digital records for years in much the same manner. Storage and transmission of information are the two areas someone might try to gain access or intercept someone’s private records. Like in banking, the healthcare industry has encryption and authentication methods to govern data security, on top of HIPPA to dictate roles-based rules around access to records.
In an industry notoriously slow to adopt new technologies, the EHR game has been a long one. But victory is calling – we’re finally to a place where EHR systems are coming online and being standardized, and we know from our experience in other industries that when you insert technology into a human process, the benefits can far outweigh the issues.
So while the government is working out potential areas of misuse, there is money to be saved, and existing inefficiencies to be fixed by EHRs (to the tune of an estimated $750 billion loss in 2009 from inefficient services and administrative expenditures, according to the same Institute of Medicine report). More importantly, the effective, real-time insights for providers and patients will result in more collaborative and efficient care.