The healthcare industry is embracing the use of electronic health records (EHRs). It advances a new type of data management system that 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 accessible via mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, and shareable between multiple facilities and agencies.
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. For one, 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. Records can also be updated to provide last known information to the provider at the point of care.
Lastly, EHRs can also improve overall public health by providing a bird’s-eye view of the overall health of an entire patient population. 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-standing debate of digital versus 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 without drawbacks. Below are some of the major differences between paper and electronic records.
- Time. EHRs can save emergency care providers time during a patient's visit. And in case of emergency, these records can provide critical, life-saving information. However, experts in the field find 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 of the most obvious benefits of going digital is the reduction of adverse environmental impacts. 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. On the other hand, turning to digital solutions saves paper, trees and other resources used to make paper products.
- Security. Paper records can be compromised in 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 occurrence of numerous cybersecurity and data breaches involving thousands of medical records.
- Cost. Large healthcare providers often have to pay large sums of money to purchase, install, and gain full access to EHR systems. Maintaining paper records, by contrast, requires only human administrative costs and storage costs.
- Access. One of the biggest gripes against paper records is that they are 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 an app or by sending a photo via a secured network.
- Illegibility. 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, notes can be typewritten without regard for 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. Some changes include:
- Reducing the data entry burden
- Including remote monitoring
- Increasing transparency
- Increasing room for patient engagement
Despite these, we can still expect EHRs in the future to eventually have more in-depth content and provide a more layered representation of a person’s history. Over time, this will lead to better diagnosis of patients and more accurate prescription of medicine.
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