The implementation of electronic health records (EHRs) by hospitals, clinics, and private physicians' offices across the United States has taken off. In September of 2015 the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health IT reported that almost three quarters of physicians surveyed had implemented certified EHRs.
"As of May of 2014, more that 404,000 healthcare providers received payment for participating in the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Record Incentive Program," according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
The ONC recently released a paper that outlined a 10-year plan to develop an interoperable health IT ecosystem that may simultaneously improve population health, boost patient engagement and lower costs. What that means is EHRs should be the norm for everyone in the U.S. receiving healthcare and they should be completely functional by 2024.
EHRs aren’t the wave of the future, they are the present – and they are transforming healthcare as we know it in these five ways.
EHRs have the potential to coordinate and organize an individual’s health information and make it available at any health care provider site that has access. For instance, a construction worker steps on a nail but doesn’t remember the last time he had a tetanus shot. At the emergency room all the triage nurse has to do is access the worker’s immunization file in his EHR, look at the dates and they know immediately if another shot is needed. Also, when the EHR is accessed and new notes on this event are entered, alerts can also be sent the patient’s regular providers to proactively follow up with the patient.
For patients, keeping up with personal health records and information will be simplified with the use of an EHR. Each person will have their own and that information will be readily at hand. Need a physical before starting sport’s camp? Call it up, print it out and hand the results to the coach. Need to know if Grandma had a flu shot this year? That information is available at the touch of a few buttons. Need to follow up with your doctor? Just access your own record and make an appointment.
EHRs mean faster, more efficient communication, less duplication and faster processing of medical test and other procedures, reduced scheduling errors, reduced transcription costs, and streamlining of forms and billing requests. If routine, necessary tasks can be made faster, more accurate and more efficient it means more time for healthcare providers to spend interacting with their patients.
EHRs can mean the difference between safe, reliable healthcare and tragedy. Patients are often poor historians. They don’t remember what medications they are taking or why. Every day someone shows up at a doctor’s office or the hospital carrying a bag of medications. Upon inspection the new provider will find two or three different blood pressure medications, two competing heart medications or multiple sleep aids. Every doctor the patient has visited prescribed something new and the patient has added it to their daily regimen. With access to the patient’s EHR these mistakes can be avoided.
Everyone is busy these days. Providers are seeing more patients and patients have busy lives. EHRs can help keep everyone moving. For example, with e-prescribing, patients can have their prescriptions ordered and ready often before they leave the provider's office. Insurance claims can be filed immediately at the end of a visit. And just think, whether at home or away, patients and providers can stay in touch in case of emergency.
Another benefit of the ONC plan and the federally mandated EHR system is more jobs in the healthcare tech industry. To keep the ONC plan on track it will take the insight, vision and skills of IT designers, strategists and informaticists.
These jobs will require working knowledge of healthcare, information systems, computer programming and more.
"Interoperability ... is so complex. It requires all of us to have some shared responsibility thinking through how we're going to get there in a way that meets everyone's needs and expectations,” said Karen DeSalvo, National Coordinator for Health IT.