The Role of Electronic Healthcare Records in the Healthcare Sector

What are Electronic Health Records (EHRs) ?

An EHR or an Electronic Health Record is a computer readable store of patient information that is accessible by healthcare professionals. It is also known as a systematic collation and collection of data and information about the patients in an electronic form. The EHRs can store information related to the demographics, family history, patient information, lab data, and radiology reports in addition to the previous medical history and can incorporate information from any source where the patient has had his or her medical condition treated. The biggest advantages of an EHR are that they can be shared across hospitals and healthcare providers and therefore, can be a “single source of truth” about the patient and his or her medical history. Further, EHRs existing in electronic form obviate the need to store patient information in multiple files and manually as well as providing for accuracy, consistency, and reliability in the treatment of patients. Of course, as we shall discuss later there are some privacy and security issues that need to be taken into consideration as well as the potential benefits which range from automation and transparency to accountability and potential use as evidence in medical malpractice cases.

How the Healthcare Industry uses EHRs

The use of EHRs is increasing exponentially in recent years mainly because of the increasing awareness among the patients and the healthcare providers for access to patient records. Further, the incentives to use the EHRs are also being provided by the government, which wants the healthcare profession to automate and embrace Information Technology as much as possible in an effort to modernize, and increase the efficiency with which the sector operates. Apart from this, the use of EHRs is also increasing because the supply chain of the healthcare sector has become more complex leading to a need among the various stakeholders for accurate, reliable, and consistent information about the patients, which they can then use to provide quality healthcare to the patients. Finally, with the integration of the IT backbone of hospitals across the United States, the mobility of patients has become easier as they can now no longer limit themselves to a single state for their medical needs as the information is available countrywide.

The Promise and Perils of EHRs in the Healthcare Sector

In the introduction, we described some of the general benefits of using EHRs. If we expand on them, it is clear that the promise of EHRs is that it allows patient information to be stored in one file and then shared across healthcare providers thereby ensuring that patient information is available to all healthcare providers in the supply chain. In other words, if a patient is treated by a Doctor A in a Hospital B and then he or she is referred to Doctor B in hospital C, all the stakeholders can duly note the patient information in a single file and access it providing for accurate patient information that can prove to be a boon for the stakeholders because they do not need to elicit the information each time from the patient or request for information from the previous healthcare provider. This aspect proves to be extremely beneficial when patients are treated in emergency rooms as the time that is available in the “Golden Hour” (the window of opportunity for healthcare providers to attend to a critical patient and which makes the difference between life and death) is short and hence, the doctors and the paramedics need not wait for information as it is readily available in the EHR.

Of course, this is not to say that EHRs are the panacea to all the problems that healthcare professionals face when trying to locate information about the patients. For instance, if too many people access the records, the data integrity might be compromised and also unauthorized access means that patient information can be sold to unscrupulous individuals and entities that might profit from it. This is the reason why many healthcare providers in the United States have jointly evolved a mechanism through which access is restricted on a “need to know” basis as well as for emergency purposes.

Having said that, it must also be noted that the EHRs can prove to be valuable in medical malpractice cases as the record of treatment once entered cannot be altered leading to the healthcare professionals being held accountable. In other words, what this means is that whenever a patient is treated by a particular doctor or in a particular hospital, he or she leaves an electronic footprint on the record, which can be used as evidence either to prove the negligence of the healthcare provider or to exonerate them from false cases. This is the reason the medical fraternity in general has welcomed the decision to adopt the EHRs in their profession.

Conclusion

Before concluding this article, it must be mentioned that the passage of the Obamacare or the Affordable Healthcare Act also known as the Healthcare Reform Bill has resulted in a quantum jump in the usage of EHRs by the medical fraternity. Indeed, with the numerous governmental incentives available, it would be remiss on part of the healthcare providers to not adopt the EHRs and this is the reason why the adoption of EHRs has seen a spike in the years since the law has been passed and it is hoped that there would be further efforts to bring in more transparency and accountability to the healthcare profession.


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