Gone are the days of doctor’s offices crammed with file cabinets overrun with paper files and staff pulling their hair out rifling through drawers to find the latest information they seek. Meet the EHR, or electronic health record, a modern solution to an ages-old need. Find out why a growing number of doctors, clinics, hospitals, and healthcare practices throughout the nation are making the switch themselves from paper medical records to electronic ones. And learn the precautions to be aware of when selecting and setting up an EHR system for your health care practice.
What Is an EHR?
"An EHR is a digital version of a patient’s medical chart that is maintained by the provider over time and may include all of the key administrative clinical data relevant to that person’s care under a particular provider. - National Institutes of Health”
The NIH then goes on to explain that, in addition to serving as a record for the attending provider, many EHRs also provide pertinent details regarding the patients’ health to other health care providers and the patient him or herself.
Pros and Cons of EHRs
There are many potential benefits of EHRs for patients and providers alike, including an array of clinical, organizational, and societal outcomes. While EHRs can serve as excellent tools for physicians, one cannot expect them to function effectively in isolation.
As the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) explains, “Achieving the true benefits of EHR systems requires the transformation of practices, based on quality improvement methodologies, system and team based-care, and evidence-based medicine.”
Yet, despite all that, studies have also identified many potential drawbacks to EHRs including increased initial acquisition and regular maintenance costs, and workflow interruptions due to the need to learn a new system, which can play a role in productivity losses. What’s more, many people still have worries about privacy where EHRs are concerned.
The following details the many advantages and potential disadvantages of EHRs so that you can make the best-informed decision about whether and when to implement an EHR system in your medical practice.
Benefits of EHRs
There are many benefits to an EHR, but to be most effective, it must be used correctly.
“The EHR is about quality, safety, and efficiency. It is a great tool for physicians, but cannot ensure these virtues in isolation. Achieving the true benefits of EHR systems requires the transformation of practices, based on quality improvement methodologies, system and team-based care, and evidence-based medicine.” - American Academy of Family Physicians
Improved Quality of Care
In contrast to the traditionally bad handwriting for which physicians are notorious, computerized records are easy to read. As a result, there’s much less risk of misinterpretations or errors in critical areas such as diagnosis and medical orders that can lead to dire health consequences for the patient.
This improves the delivery of care on many levels, including:
- Improve accuracy of documentation, making diagnosis and claims submission easier and quicker
- Start treatments immediately with automated alerts noting potential risks
- Track and manage medications in one location and include drug-drug interaction alerts
- Make preventive care easier to track and implement
- Provide greater support in making point-of-care decisions
- More easily and effectively integrate evidence-based clinical guidelines
EHRs also allow you to store medical records more safely and collect and analyze data more easily. This includes creating reports faster, exploring data trends more thoroughly, and more effectively controlling inventory.
Convenience and Efficiency
Office and medical staff no longer need to spend needless time wading through mountains of paperwork to find the patient information they seek. Instead, computerized records can be accessed much faster and more efficiently with just a few keystrokes. This, in turn, offers countless benefits to providers and patients alike.
For the Provider
EHRs give providers greater organizational efficiency:
- Improving collaboration with other providers and partners
- Employing coding applications to facilitate easier billing
- Reducing the number of charts needed to pull and file again
EHRs can also lower transcription costs and cut down on malpractice risk by offering improved documentation. They increase formulary compliance and, by making prescriptions easier to read, cut down on the need for pharmacy callbacks for clarification.
EHRs likewise cut down on the consumption of resources by reducing the number of paper forms necessary and duplicate or needless lab orders, as well as facilitating easier medication management.
They save space:
Cutting down on the demands and costs of storage. No longer does a medical office need to supply itself with costly file cabinets, folders, and so much printer paper and ink. Now, instead, the office can use those unspent funds to improve quality of care and use that unused space for more medical supplies and equipment. Meanwhile, all your office's medical records can be stored on an individual computer hard drive and backed up in the cloud.
EHRs cut down on labor:
By allowing patient data to be reviewed faster, reducing time spent issuing appointment-reminder calls or emails, and allowing for the use of templates to make document creation easier.
They can also improve population management:
Facilitate patient reminders, improve payer reimbursements and provide eligibility to participate in various programs that offer pay for performance.
For the Patient
Typically, an EHR system will contain a portal patients can use whenever they wish to access their own medical records. This prevents the need for unnecessary calls or appointments to obtain information the patient can easily access electronically on his or her own.
This enhanced patient access also benefits providers, incidentally, by eliminating the time and energy spent locating, copying, and sending files the patient is now empowered to access him or herself.
Patient satisfaction is also enhanced with EHRs in several other ways, including by cutting down on turnaround time for responding to patient's messages and medication refill requests and improving continuity of care and patient education material delivery.
A certified EHR system can help a physician’s office to meet Medicare and Medicaid Meaningful Use requirements so that they can access certain incentives the federal government issues.
Disadvantages of EHR
As mentioned earlier, along with the many advantages of EHRs come certain disadvantages, most notably those detailed below.
Potential Privacy and Cybersecurity Issues
All computerized systems are vulnerable to attacks by hackers, and EHR systems are not immune. The consequences of private medical information getting into the wrong hands could be dire.
If an EHR is not updated immediately, as soon as new information is gleaned, such as following an exam or after test results come in, anyone viewing that EHR could be receiving incorrect or incomplete information. This could lead to subsequent errors in diagnosis, treatment, and health outcomes, not only by the issuing practitioner but also by any specialists, pharmacists, physical therapists, or personal trainers participating in the patient's care.
Frightening Patients Needlessly
When a patient has access to his or her own medical information at will, it can expose that patient to information he or she may not completely understand. The ability to access information one does not thoroughly understand could lead to a host of misunderstandings, including those that create a panic in the patient or lead him or her to take inappropriate, and potentially detrimental, actions.
Malpractice Liability Concerns
Implementing an EHR system opens the door to several liability concerns, such as how to ensure precious medical data does not get destroyed or lost during the transfer from paper to electronic records. This, in turn, could lead to errors in treatment. Physicians can be held liable for any inability to access all the medical data at their disposal, especially when that data is supposed to be more accessible given their electronic nature.
Time and Money
It can take years to select and set up an EHR system and completely switch over all your paper records to digital ones. Over that time, you must determine your budget and decide what features you require. It also takes time to demo EHR products and negotiate with EHR system vendors to choose and implement the right system for your practice. Then, even after your new EHR system is all set up and running smoothly, you still need to take the time to train your staff in how to use it.
There is also the cost involved in setting up and switching over to a whole new medical records system, which, even at competitive prices, doesn’t come cheap. Fortunately, as more and more players enter the EHR system marketplace, increased price competition is becoming more prevalent.
Inconvenience and Inefficiency
As suggested above, maintaining an EHR system requires frequent updates. If your team doesn’t stay on top of that, your records could lose their accuracy and, subsequently, their value. EHRs can also be inconvenient in that they require computer access and, more, internet access to utilize. If you have a power outage or computer failure, that information can become inaccessible. An essential part of a strong EHR is the ability to have an information technology team available to solve technical problems immediately so that patient care interruptions are minimized.
Electronic health records offer many valuable benefits for providers and patients alike, including improved quality of care, greater convenience and efficiency, and access to federal financial incentives. However, they also come with many potential disadvantages to be aware of, including certain inconveniences and inefficiencies, as well as potential privacy and cybersecurity concerns, the potential to needlessly frighten patients, increased malpractice liability concerns, and matters of cost in terms of both time and money.
Ultimately, when weighing the advantages of EHRs against their disadvantages, policymakers and experts alike agree that, once EHRS are adopted and meaningfully used on a widespread basis, they can considerably benefit patients, providers, and society as a whole.
Speak with an expert to find out if EHRs are right for your practice and how best to implement one most effectively and efficiently.