Electronic Health Records (EHRs) offer massive and extensive benefits to both healthcare providers and patients. In the following article, you’ll discover how EHRs have transformed how data is recorded, stored and shared, and the many positive influences they’ve had on public health.
What Is an EHR?
In order to understand how, exactly, EHRs benefit public health, it helps to start with a clear idea of what, exactly, an EHR is.
"An electronic health record is a longitudinal electronic record of patient health information generated by one or more encounters in any care delivery setting." - Healthcare Information and Management Systems (HIMS)
As the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) elaborates, “An Electronic Health Record (EHR) is an electronic version of a patient’s medical history, 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.”
That data may include (but is not limited to)
- Past medical history
- Medications (Active and Inactive)
- Vital Signs
- Progress Notes
- Laboratory data
- Radiology reports
The CMS goes on to explain that EHRs automate the whole process of information access and can potentially streamline medical workflow.
EHRs also offer a range of interfaces like outcome reporting, quality management and evidence-based decision support to help further support other healthcare activities both directly and indirectly.
Benefits of EHRs
In examining the various benefits of electronic health records, researchers have considered the full range of outcomes, including:
- Organizational: Such as clinician and patient satisfaction and operational and financial performance
- Clinical: Such as quality of care improvements, medical error reductions and other improvements in measures patients use to evaluate the care they receive
- Societal: Such as the abilities to execute research and improve the health of the general population
The specific ways in which EHRs provide these benefits are explored in greater detail in the sections below.
First, however, it can be useful as you consider the many benefits of electronic health records to be aware as well of their potential drawbacks.
As Robin Hoover, MSN-HCI, RN explains in a 2016 edition of the journal Nursing, “Healthcare providers and hospitals have been slow to adopt any comprehensive EHR,” proceeding to outline prospective barriers like:
- High costs: Including upfront adoption and implementation expenses, continuing maintenance costs and potential revenue losses or declines, such as from a temporary productivity loss during the transition from paper to digital records
- Workflow matters: Caused by staff needing to learn the new system and potentially leading to temporary errors in the interim
- Inadequate computer skills: Requiring the hiring of new employees or training existing ones, potentially requiring increased training and payroll expenses
- Security and privacy issues: While EHR systems are designed to be secure, improper execution or inadequate training could lead to new security and privacy concerns not relevant to using paper records.
Other potential problems implementing an EHR system could cause in a medical practice include:
- Reduced revenues from shorter patient visits and stay times and fewer billable redundancies
- Shifts in power structures as electronic systems may inhibit a provider's autonomy
- Staff's growing over-dependence on technology
- Inability of different EHRs to communicate patient medical information in real time.
There may also be any number of other unintended consequences that cannot be predicted or planned for in advance.
Hoover goes on to clarify, however, that, “adopting EHRs has many more benefits than drawbacks, and implementation is worth the upfront time and cost commitment.”
What’s more, many of the advantages of EHRs directly counter some of these disadvantages, such as cost savings from newfound synergies that outweigh high upfront and maintenance expenses.
Who Do EHRs Benefit?
The more doctors supervising a patient’s care, the more difficult it can be for them all to track the patient’s total medical history and progress. Much information, from current medications and recent test results to past procedures and other physician’s recommendations, can be overlooked or not updated in a timely enough fashion, the results of which can be dire for the patient’s health and due care.
EHRs allow any number of providers from however many disparate locations to update the same, singular patient medical record and access the most current medical information on that patient.
Using EHRs, physicians can even more effectively and efficiently collaborate with other departments within their own practice on a given patient’s care.
Among the powerful tools EHRs put at a clinician's disposal include:
- Clinical Decision Support (CDS) tools: Helping physicians to more accurately and effectively make patient decisions, such as by offering the latest information regarding a particular medication or providing drug-interaction alerts
- Computerized Physician Order Entry (CPOE) systems: Allowing physicians to enter in any type of order for treatment, from medications to physical therapy, radiology or laboratory tests.
- Health Information Exchange (HIE): Allowing physicians across departments and practices to securely share the most current and pertinent patient data.
This use of a singular patient medical record all a patient’s providers can simultaneously access helps not only to keep all providers current and on the same page with a patient’s care, but it also helps to reduce medical errors and delays in treatment as well as help prevent duplicated tests, hence improving results management. Likewise EHRs reduce the amount of paperwork a practice needs to create, store and manage. As such, a medical practice or facility is more easily able to stay on schedule and operate with more optimum efficiency.
By the same token, thanks to EHRs, no longer do practices have to worry about losing or misplacing patient records or making errors based on misreading transcribed entries. EHRs ensure the clarity of all entries, regardless of who entered them. This, in turn, improves patient safety and satisfaction, in addition to care, reducing instances of complaints and related actions. The digital format also allows for easier scalability than paper records.
EHRs improve patient-physician communication by giving both parties complete access to the same medical information on that patient as opposed to just a brief summary of the most recent updates. They also tend to contain much fewer mistakes than printed medical records. As such, patients can experience a more thorough evaluation with the potential for a quicker and more accurate diagnosis.
By allowing all physicians supervising a patient’s care to review all the medical information available on that patient, EHRs also help make it easier for patients to follow-up with their physicians and track their own progress and continued care, no matter which doctor on the team he or she is currently consulting with.
The speed with which electronic records allow the transfer of information versus that of printed records is more than just a convenience for patients during their various scheduled doctor’s visits. It can also be lifesaving during emergencies when time, thoroughness and accuracy are of the absolute essence. This is particularly vital when patients are incapacitated or confused and unable to provide even basic medical information like blood type, preexisting conditions and medication allergies to new providers in a crisis.
What Are the Benefits of EHRs?
Now that you’ve gotten a broad overview of the many benefits EHRs offer to patients and providers alike, let’s delve deeper into some of the areas they cover to see how EHRs can improve so many critical aspects of patient care and outcomes.
Accessibility - Better Coordination of Patient Care
Patients typically deal with multiple providers in their healthcare journey, including nurses, lab techs and clinicians. At each encounter, new vital health data is gleaned that must be interpreted in the larger context of a patient’s total medical history and current health status in order to be truly useful and, indeed, do no harm.
EHRs allow the full spectrum of healthcare providers, from general practitioners and specialists to hospitals and pharmacies, to seamlessly share a patient’s more current and complete medical data. This, in turn, leads to a range of improved outcomes, from faster and more accurate diagnoses to fewer errors, and an overall greater quality of care.
Access - Increased Efficiency and Productivity
EHRs give providers access to a broad range of powerful tools they can utilize to make key health decisions for their patients, including:
- Speech recognition and dictation
- Electronic prescribing
- Advanced reporting
Through integrated scheduling, EHRs streamline office management by linking all pertinent information, including:
- Automated coding
- Progress notes
- Insurance claims
All this, in turn, can help medical offices to save inordinate time and maximize productivity.
What’s more, medical errors don’t just pose risks to patient care and safety; they also have detrimental effects on medical office efficiency and productivity.
According to Health Informatics: Practical Guide for Healthcare and Information Professionals, the President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee found that 20% of all laboratory tests must be reordered due to prior information inaccessible by the attending clinician’s at the time of testing.
Complete History - Better Patient Outcomes
EHRs allow for centralized chart management, meaning they provide all practitioners treating a patient with a thorough and comprehensive medical history of that individual across the entire continuum of care and access to update it as required to keep it current and complete.
Fewer Issues With Paperwork and Storage
In healthcare, routine administrative responsibilities take up a major proportion of expenses of both time and money. All parties involved in a patient’s care, including staff and clinicians he or she may never personally encounter, spend a great deal of their time on the job completing forms and processing them. The use of EHRs can help streamline many of these repetitive and time-consuming duties.
What’s more, as a medical practice sees its paperwork load decline due to making the switch to EHRs, so, too, does the amount of storage space needed reduce. This can result in cleaner, less cluttered and more organized, spacious and efficient medical office spaces.
As Robin Hoover explains, “Since the passage of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act in 2009, advancements in technology for electronic health records (EHRs) have dramatically increased."
Signed into law as part of a larger stimulus package, "HITECH includes incentives that provide reimbursements to hospitals and healthcare provider practices for adopting certified EHR technology and meeting meaningful use requirements."
What’s more, adopting EHRs reduces full-time equivalents (FTEs) and helps healthcare practices and facilities to transform their records rooms into exam rooms or other more productive spaces.
According to the Center for Information Technology Leadership (CITL), the use of ambulatory EHRs could yield $44 billion in annual cost savings.
Having access to their own medical records empowers patients to take a more proactive role in their own healthcare management, potentially helping to improve specific outcomes and general well-being alike.
Patients can access their EHRs from any internet-enabled computer or device via secure online portals. There, they can review historical health data, recent lab results and pertinent drug information, as well as communicate digitally with a provider, request prescription refills and schedule appointments. They can even print or email necessary health data to other providers requesting it.
The latest evolution in the healthcare industry’s ongoing progress toward further strengthening the doctor-patient relationship, EHRs take the timeliness and availability of medical data to a whole new level, enabling providers to offer increasingly more appropriate and effective care and empowering patients to serve as their own personal healthcare advocates.
University of Illinois at Chicago. The Benefits of Electronic Health Records. Accessed August 17, 2020 at https://healthinformatics.uic.edu/blog/the-benefits-of-electronic-health-records/.
University of South Florida Health - Morsani College of Medicine. Differences Between EHR and EMR. Accessed August 17, 2020 at https://www.usfhealthonline.com/resources/key-concepts/ehr-vs-emr/. '
Care Cloud. EMR vs. EHR – What Is the Difference?. Accessed August 17, 2020 at https://www.carecloud.com/ehr-vs-emr/.
Evan Heier. Select Hub. EHR vs EMR: A Comprehensive Comparison of the Difference Between Them. Accessed August 17, 2020 at https://www.selecthub.com/medical-software/the-difference-between-ehr-vs-emr/.
University of South Florida Health - Morsani College of Medicine. Benefits of Electronic Health Records. Accessed August 17, 2020 at https://www.usfhealthonline.com/resources/healthcare/benefits-of-ehr/