The fact that the world is going digital is unprecedented. With that in mind, the healthcare industry has also decided to embrace the digital trend in the form of EHRs. Short for electronic health records, this new type of data management system aims to improve on traditional paper-based ways. But will it?
What is an Electronic Health Record?
An electronic health record (EHR) is an individual’s official health document that is accessible on their mobile devices and shareable between multiple facilities and agencies. The role of an EHR is growing exponentially in keeping track of the ever-growing patient database.
Typically an EHR includes: contact information, allergies, family history, list of medications, information regarding previous surgeries and procedures, and other relevant patient information.
How EHRs improve patient care
EHRs improve patient care in significant ways.The first being that they can aid in diagnosing patient illnesses based on past history and the patients’ complete health information. EHRs can also help reduce medical errors and false positives. While EHRs do contain and transmit data, information can also be manipulated in meaningful ways to provide information to the provider at the point of care.
Lastly, EHRs can also improve overall public health by providing a birdseye view of the entire patient population and overall health information. This lets providers identify risk factors that most impact the patients and proactively prepare for potential outbreaks or illnesses.
The big debate: EHR vs Paper Records
The long-lasting debate of digital vs traditional data storage has expanded to every industry, and healthcare isn’t spared from it either. While most agree that EHRs offer more benefits in comparison with paper records, EHRs themselves are not flawless. Below are some of the major differences between paper and electronic records.
- Time: Providers have noted that EHRs have saved them an average of 15 hours a week in documentation, allowing them to focus on what’s really important: their patients. However, other experts in the field have argued that the learning curve in using EHRs is too steep and reduces healthcare providers into becoming data entry staff. And all the typing, clicking, and pointing, have caused physicians to become distracted from their patients.
- Environment: One the most obvious benefits of going digital is the reduction of impact on the environment. A typical patient’s medical record usually encompasses close to hundreds of pages and might even run into the thousands in the most extreme cases.
- Security: Paper records can be compromised two ways: by being misplaced or getting stolen (in the unlikely event of a break-in). EHRs, on the other hand, are at risk due to the increasing prevalence of cyberattacks. Recent years in particular have been rough for the healthcare industry, as evidenced by the cybersecurity and data breaches involving thousands of medical records being accessed.
- Cost: Large healthcare providers often have to pay close to $1 billion or more to purchase, install and gain full access to EHR systems. Maintaining EHRs is also associated with long-term costs. Maintaining paper records, by contrast, requires only human administrative costs and storage costs.
- Access: One of the biggest gripes against paper records is the fact that it is incredibly tedious to access and share. Obtaining a paper record involves first having to find it — possibly within a mound of files — and then either mailing, faxing or scanning the copies. Sharing EHRs on the other hand is much easier, patients and medical personnel can access information via the download of an app or by sending a photo via a secured network.
- Illegibility: If you’ve visited a doctor you’re probably aware of the handwriting on their notes. A physician’s penmanship is often tough to read and decipher, and very easy to misinterpret. Paper records are also notorious for not providing enough space for a physician to jot everything down legibly. With EHRs, there is an unlimited amount of space, reducing concerns regarding illegibility.
EHRs in the future:
Experts on the subject seem to believe that EHRs need to evolve a little more before being fully accepted and integrated by all healthcare institutions. Changes include:
- Reducing the data entry burden
- Including remote monitoring
- Increasing transparency
- Increasing room for patient engagement
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