In the early 1960s, when most hospitals and health systems were steeped in paper, a handful of highly progressive healthcare providers embarked on a journey to implement a computer-based patient record. Envisioning the benefits of electronic health records to reduce, or even eliminate, paper in medical record keeping for healthcare providers of all sizes and specialties, their bold steps forever changed the way clinicians gather, document and review patient information.
In 1972, the first electronic medical record system emerged, only to be shunned by physicians due to its high cost. It was mainly used by government hospitals and few forward thinking institutions.
Fast forward to 2017, and the benefits of electronic health records (EHR) are widely recognized among healthcare providers. In fact, 98 percent of all hospitals now demonstrate meaningful use and have adopted an EHR. On the ambulatory side, the global EHR market expects 5.8% growth by 2021, growth that is fueled by government mandates, the need to reduce costs and growing consumer demands to enhance healthcare quality and delivery.
Growing Value for Providers, Patients
Despite growing use of electronic health records, the healthcare industry is nowhere close to realizing the full benefits of the digitized record. While most providers acknowledge the benefits and vision for the future, the growing pains created by varying standards and the challenges of data exchange due to different electronic formats remain a hurdle.
EHRs deliver advantages to healthcare providers and patients by enabling better collection, storage and sharing of health information for the purpose of coordinated care delivery. Electronic data storage and retrieval reduces the risk of lost patient records and test results and offers more secure access over their paper predecessors, which easily could be left on a desk and viewed by anyone walking by. This can be a very important advantage and in better alignment with HIPAA compliance requirements.
Another benefit of EHR technology is that it supports greater accuracy in records, as healthcare providers are prompted to complete required data fields, use standard terminology and check predefined boxes, not to mention the fact that the EHR has purged the patient record of illegible physician notes. One specific benefit of electronic health record technology is the speed in which clinicians can gain access to critical test results and progress notes, eliminating delays in treatment caused by missing data. Finally, electronic health records support enhanced patient safety by collecting more complete data and providing secure access throughout the care continuum.
On the other hand, electronic health records are not without their own challenges. One of the biggest and perhaps most visible risks of electronic health records is data security, as brought to light by the recent WannaCry ransomware cyber attack which affected 16 National Health Service hospitals in the UK. This massive hack effectively took the hospitals offline, forcing suspension of services. In this attack, as in previous ones, cyber criminals disrupted care and business operations by making personal and clinical data contained in the electronic health records unavailable at the point of care.
The negative impacts of cyber attacks are two-fold: risk to patient care and safety and risk to patients’ financial health as other personal information is exposed to unauthorized individuals with malicious intent. While data is potentially more secure inside the four walls of the health system, the ability to share data to those who need it to deliver care beyond those walls also offers the risk of unintended information exchange on a mass scale. Therefore, health systems need a comprehensive approach to data security that includes all aspects of their operations, including the EHR.
Efficiency Supports Better Care
The benefits of electronic medical records are spread between healthcare providers and patients and support the ultimate goal of effective exchange of data (information) between providers caring for the same patient. In addition, electronic health records can help physicians practice more efficiently by saving time with electronic prescription, lab and imaging ordering and faster test result transactions. The end goal is improved patient care and outcomes through better health and disease management.
Enabling data integration into a single electronic medical record or single view, EHRs make data accessible for the right person at the right time in the care delivery process. But on a broader scale, health systems, like Accountable Care Organizations (ACO) and highly integrated delivery systems that embrace EHR technology, are able to integrate, aggregate and harmonize data across specialties, multiple EHRs in acute and ambulatory settings, and financial, operational and claims data sources. This allows providers to effectively collaborate and establish appropriate metrics to support the overarching goal of coordinated, high quality care.
Hidden Data Provides Insight
While the benefits of electronic health records to store, manage and exchange patient information are enormous, the advantages of using the EHR as a data source to provide insight beyond individual patient care are immeasurable. However, a recent survey showed that we still have a ways to go. The survey noted that only 31 percent of healthcare providers use their EHR analytics capabilities while another third utilized a combination of the EHR capabilities and an outside vendor to analyze data. Demonstrating the under utilization of this important aspect of the EHR, 11 percent of respondents said they didn’t analyze EHR data at all.
For the greater patient (or population) good, health systems more than ever need to understand and utilize the comprehensive set of data that the EHR can provide, especially in combination with other EHRs and other data sources. ACOs know that this integrated approach to data management and exchange can improve care. They understand the benefits of using the collective data in electronic health records to analyze specific patient populations, distinguish risk factors, identify trends in disease treatment and predict future outcomes, all of which improve patient care, outcomes and the cost of care.
To unlock this hidden benefit of the EHR, healthcare organizations need a flexible and scalable platform that allows management and integration of complex data across and, in some cases, beyond the enterprise. In many organizations, internal IT resources do not have the time or ability to manage the increasing volume and integration complexities of new and expanding sources of data. Choosing cloud-based technologies and a trusted partner to supplement internal IT resources helps create a comprehensive data set in a secure and compliant manner.
The success of data management can be measured by the quality of the business decisions and outcomes that are derived from the data. This requires moving beyond simple data collection to a strategy and tools that are designed to improve data integration, data exchange, and overall data management along with care and business outcomes. A good place to start is analyzing the data that exists in the EHR and leveraging that data for continual improvement.