For the Record: The Necessity of Electronic Records in Healthcare (CF)

Although we live in an increasingly digital world, more than a quarter of medical patients still keep their health records only as physical copies in home-based storage units like a filing cabinet, drawer, or even a shoebox. This method of storage is understandably flawed. The security of those documents is constantly in jeopardy, and they are easily misplaced or destroyed. Many patients don’t fully understand the importance of these records and aren’t completely reliable in providing an accurate oral history to their doctors.

Over 60% of all healthcare patients depend on their doctors to keep track of their health information — meaning that they don’t even have a shoebox. To provide them with the best healthcare possible, their doctors must offer a way to digitally store and access their medical records. While a digital health filing system has the capability to give easy and accurate access to health records by the patient, its benefits extend to practices as well.

With these systems, doctors, nurses, administrative assistants, and other healthcare professionals can gain easy and immediate access to relevant records, making the care of the patient more efficient and productive. Collaboration between departments increases, transferring records becomes simpler, and information about updated guidelines or the most recent research is immediate. Systems like the FDA Adverse Event Reporting, which helps to monitor the safety of approved drugs and therapeutic biologic products, can be synced with electronic health records and implemented by practices immediately, leading to the safer practice of medicine.

Why are electronic records so important?

With the ever-growing demand for healthcare professionals, speed and efficiency are key. But rushing through visits can result in potentially life-threatening errors. With electronic records, many of these concerns become nonissues.

Taking a personal history from the patient is time-consuming and not always reliable. With electronic health records (EHR), that information is already provided and verified by healthcare professionals. EHRs are also much more convenient for practices and patients. Many systems provide scheduling capabilities. Having an entire department for scheduling is complicated and expensive. Giving patients access to make and cancel appointments on their own streamlines the entire process. If a patient is referred to a specialist or moves to a different city, records can be seamlessly transferred to the new department or office electronically, so that nothing is lost in transit. The comfort and security that patients feel from having their health information so easily accessible to them will keep them as long-term patients and can help attract new patients as well.

A practice with EHR is the safest option for employees and patients. Patients don’t have to worry about their shoebox full of personal medical records being lost or destroyed, and can be confident knowing that their doctor has the most up-to-date information on them and their health. Doctors and nurses have immediate access to past medical history and relevant allergies and other concerns. With adverse event reporting, doctors know in real time the latest information on medications they are prescribing and can share that information with the other health professionals they work with, making everyone more up to date. And all of that information can be backed up on the cloud, meaning that not only the patient’s mind is at rest, but their physicians’ minds are, too.

Not only is it safer and more efficient to store medical records electronically, it’s a matter of financial savvy. Because EHR results in more productivity and fewer errors, federal and state governments, insurance companies, and large medical institutions are financially incentivizing its implementation. As a part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the U.S. Congress has put into place incentives for the transition from paper records to electronic, and penalties for those practices who resist. Larger companies understand the benefits of EHR, and practices not only benefit by seeing more patients and treating them more effectively but by strong financial incentives.

Consider this when implementing a new system.

When a practice adopts a new records and filing system, especially an electronic one, there are important factors to consider. Arguably the most important variable is cost. There are hundreds of EHR systems at play in today’s market and just as many price tags.

While the companies with the larger cost may be able to boast more capabilities and conveniences, practices should be cautious to stay within their means. In the long run, an effectively implemented EHR system will save healthcare institutions money. But those savings need to justify the initial and monthly or annual costs. Researching reviews and ratings will get physicians off to a good start, but the best advice is firsthand. By observing what systems local hospitals and practices are using, doctors will see what is and isn’t working, and the prices that they may face.

Another important factor to consider is what kind of hardware a new system will require. Fortunately, most modern systems don’t require any. Using a practice’s current computers or tablets, downloading a purchased software is the simplest and often most efficient solution. This trend toward a downloadable software commonly comes with cloud storage instead of physical or company-provided storage. This means that offices don’t need to purchase and maintain terabytes of space to keep their patient information; it’s all stored securely in the cloud. This also makes it much easier to access by different physicians at the practice, as well as nurses, administrators, consulting doctors, new doctors, and the patients themselves.

Establishing a budget and deciding on a cloud-based system will narrow down a practice’s search. From there, the doctors and their office need to consider what kind of services their practice will most benefit from. Many of the downloadable software options provide extra add-ons and bonuses.

If it’s important to a practice to make sure that their patients have easy access to their own data, then the addition of a patient portal or app is crucial. The interoffice exchange of data should be quick and easy, but it might behoove a practice to make that information just as accessible to patients. Someone with hypertension or diabetes, for example, will benefit from being able to see their vitals from recent visits and compare them over a matter of months or even years as they implement advice from their doctors and work toward a healthier lifestyle.

Some companies offer the option to make the patient portal or interoffice system more personalized and engaging. Having control over not only what information is stored, but how it’s asked, where it is on the screen, the theme, font, and color choices can all have a significant effect on how readily staff and patients use it. Once users are thoroughly integrated into the system, ensuring that the best information is provided is a key use for EHR systems.

Syncing with adverse event reporting will ensure that all healthcare workers, caretakers, doctors, nurses, and administrators have the most up-to-date information on all of the medications, procedures, and equipment they are trained to use. As new advances are made, progressive drugs are released, and safer procedures are cleared, having an EHR system that will automatically update that in real time can mean a world of difference to providers and patients alike.

The science of medicine is based on probability, and the more information that can be gleaned, the more informed decisions become. Using artificial intelligence to provide better healthcare has been a growing trend since its conception and will continue to be such as technology advances. Using EHR can help advance big data, which leads to smarter solutions to medical problems. In ICU centers that have Telehealth initiatives, including the essential inclusion of EHR, there is a 26% lower mortality rate and patients are released 20% earlier. Using the data collected for all patients by EHR, medical advances will be made not only for Telehealth initiatives, but in overall disease prevention and cures.

Set the records straight.

Although electronic health records have been on the market for several decades, many practices are not taking full advantage of the benefits they offer, especially modern iterations.

Implementing a standardized system of electronic recording and filing throughout a practice or institution will greatly reduce errors made due to illegibility, unreliable histories, or lost information. Practices will benefit from financial incentives, as well as being able to provide more effective care to more patients. Patients will benefit by having their medical information securely stored by their healthcare provider and rest easy knowing that any doctor they see will have a full and complete medical history with the click of a button.

EHRs are as essential technological advancement that all healthcare providers need to participate in. They should also encourage their patients to take an active role in their own health by signing up through a patient portal and tracking their own medical progress. With doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, and patients working together, the process of providing and receiving the best healthcare possible is just a click away. Check out Health Cloud today, and see for yourself how new technologies are revolutionizing how patients and care providers keep track of the data that matters most.  

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