The Pros And Cons Of EHRs
The transition from paper to electronic health records
Before the electronic health record (EHR) industry narrowed in on designing fully-integrated and centralized systems for sharing and transferring patient information securely, it was quite the challenging endeavor for hospitals and clinics. Even then, these systems didn’t become “all-in-one” like we’re used to seeing today until the 2000s with a very slow adoption rate. In 2010, only about 55% of hospitals and 29% of independently-owned clinics were using EHR systems within their facilities. It wasn’t until 2015 that adoption really boomed.
As with most new technologies, it took some time for industry players to fully trust EHRs and make the switch knowing the time, money and risk that could go into it. Investing in these systems involved a lot of research and planning to ensure seamless and successful transitions. Today, EHRs are used in almost every healthcare system you enter.
Electronic Health Records vs. Electronic Medical Records
Before we dive any further into electronic health records, we need to start with the basics. The first and most obvious question is ‘What is an EHR?’. An EHR is a digital version of a patient’s medical records. It contains the patient’s medical history, medications, treatment plans, diagnoses, allergies, immunization dates, test results and any other critical information related to their health that their care team should know. Who has access to this information? All authorized users. So, any past or future provider that sees the patient. This can amount to quite a few users over time, especially if the patient has any serious health conditions.
You have likely also heard of an ‘EMR’, or electronic medical record. It is closely related to an EHR but they are not the same. An EMR is a digital version of a patient’s records in a specific healthcare facility. It contains the medical and treatment history of the patient in one location. These records do not travel easily outside of the practice. If a patient wants their EMR to be sent to another specialist or healthcare facility, it may have to be printed out and mailed to them directly. More likely than not, the EMR does not follow a patient from one practice to another unless the patient specifically asks the original practice to send it.
To sum it up, an EMR is a patient’s history specific to one location while an EHR is a holistic, long-term view of a patient’s medical history that can be accessed and updated by multiple doctors. Now that we’ve covered the basics of EHRs, let’s talk about the importance of interoperability with these systems.
One of the most important things to focus on with EHR systems is interoperability. As defined by HealthIt.gov, "interoperability refers to the architecture or standards that make it possible for diverse EHR systems to work compatibly in a true information network”. Essentially, it refers to systems that can easily communicate and share information with each other. Interoperability is a huge reason why EHRs are widely used in the healthcare industry. To ensure EHR systems are interoperable, HealthIT.gov outlined standards in four areas that EHR technology should meet:
How applications interact with users (such as e-prescribing)
How systems communicate with each other (such as messaging standards)
How information is processed and managed (such as health information exchange)
How consumer devices integrate with other systems and applications (such as tablet PCs)
Making sure the EHR technology that is utilized in a healthcare environment has standards that meet all four of these critical areas will create better workflows and processes among the systems and the healthcare stakeholders.
Obviously, there are many advantages to EHRs and those benefits far outweigh the cons, making them the primary storage mechanism for healthcare facilities everywhere. We are going to cover a few of those benefits now but keep in mind that these benefits can only be seen if used efficiently and effectively.
Improved patient care
The top benefit that comes from electronically storing patient medical information is obviously improved patient care. A survey conducted by HealthIT.gov found that 75% of providers reported that their EHR system allows them to deliver higher quality patient care.
Having patient health information stored electronically allows providers to have a complete snapshot of the medical history of a patient at any time. This is vital when making informed and accurate diagnoses. In emergency scenarios, it also equips providers with updated medication interactions and allergies, decreasing the risk of medical malpractice.
Gained efficiency, productivity, and security
With everything stored electronically, the resources required to sift through stacks of paperwork is eliminated. That means more time can be dedicated to seeing patients and saving lives.
Patient information can be accessed from virtually anywhere, making it extremely valuable during today’s boom in telehealth. Providers can log in, access patient information and add to their chart from their home. It will update throughout the entire system remotely and most importantly, securely. Without EHR, telehealth would not be a viable care option. And in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, that would have been a major problem for patients and providers everywhere.
Virtual patient records also make it easier to communicate between providers. Most, if not all, EHR systems allow you to securely send and track receipt of patient information to other approved hospitals, labs or clinicians. This is especially important for patients seeing multiple specialists, going to the emergency room or moving to a different state or healthcare facility.
Speaking of improving efficiency and productivity, this ties perfectly into the next benefit...
Streamlined workflows and processes
With the increase in productivity, efficiency and security, the workflows that take place in healthcare are also streamlined. Patients and providers have less paperwork to fill out, leaving them with more time to see patients. Referrals to specialists and patient prescriptions can be sent with a click of a button, getting patients their medication quicker and giving providers more time in their day for other tasks. Billing and insurance claims can also be filed on EHR systems which makes it easier and more timely to send them out.
Streamlined workflows and processes come with a drastic reduction in costs for the hospital. The added time back to see patients, also leads to an increase in the healthcare facilities’ profit. While it is a hefty cost to get a high-quality system, the benefits of EHR pay for itself.
Now that we’ve covered some of the positive things that come with EHR systems. It’s time to cover the negatives (don’t worry, there aren’t many).
Lost productivity due to insufficient training
We see how this looks… we just said that one of the biggest benefits was an increase in productivity. But, hear us out. With an EHR system, it’s very important to train all providers and staff on how to properly use the system. Insufficient training on these systems can cause big headaches. If employees are spending most of their time trying to maneuver through the system to get to the right place, they are wasting time and money. Taking the time to sufficiently train all individuals who will be working with the system right away will eliminate this con immediately.
Importance of timely and accurate data input
Tying into loss in productivity, inaccurate information on a patient can be a huge con. With electronically stored patient information and the data being updated immediately upon entry, it’s important for providers to be diligent about updating them as soon as possible. If not right after their visit, at the end of the day at least. Failure to do this could result in the provider forgetting and inaccurate data to be represented the next time that patient is seen.
This is another con that can be avoided if providers are properly trained on the EHR system. Along with learning how to maneuver through the system, they should be trained on best practices to ensure timely data input.
Need for added cybersecurity measures
Everything that is computerized or accessible on the internet has a higher risk of being attacked by hackers. This means that sensitive patient information could potentially fall into the wrong hands, if the proper safety measures aren’t implemented and managed 24x7.
While this is a scary thing to think about, there are ways to reduce this risk.
Encrypt all devices that access the EHR system: This is a big capital and resource investment, but it will significantly reduce the risk of having a breach in your system. As we all know, electronic devices can get stolen very easily and if they are an experienced hacker, a password will not slow them down. So, encrypting the devices that have access to patient data is a big way to work toward eliminating that risk.
Conduct a risk assessment: This is a step that is required by HIPAA and should be done frequently on all IT systems used to access patient records. Conducting a risk assessment involves reviewing security policies and protocols, identifying potential threats and finding vulnerabilities in the system. This should be a priority and be done at least once a year to reduce the risk of a breach.
Take your time with hiring individuals: When looking at hiring individuals who will have access to patient records, it’s important to take your time and make sure you can trust them. Going through their past employment history and interviewing them thoroughly to see if they are trustworthy is worth the extra time. Although you can never 100% know if you can trust someone during the hiring process, it doesn’t hurt to go that extra mile so you feel good about who you are hiring.
As you can see, all of these cons can be avoided by properly training staff and taking added security precautions to ensure the EHR system is benefiting the hospital it’s operating for.
With the COVID-19 pandemic taking over the world in full force, EHRs are what made it easier for the healthcare industry to make the switch to virtual care. Having access to patient records from anywhere lessened the blow of the pandemic and eliminated a huge roadblock the industry may have had if EHRs weren’t widely implemented.
Powering White-label EHR Technology
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