EHR Electronic Health Records

BWD Magazine, Summer 2011

A healthy change in the system

If you have visited your physician recently, you may have noticed some changes. Perhaps you had the opportunity to register at a kiosk as if checking in for a flight. Or the receptionist may have scanned your insurance card and driver’s license in an optical card reader. If so, your physician has implemented an electronic health record!

In 2004, President George W. Bush introduced an initiative to encourage physicians to begin using electronic communication capabilities for prescribing medications and keeping patient health records. The initiative was relatively successful with larger group practices and some hospital-based practices. But a survey by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) indicated that the adoption rate for smaller practices was less than ten percent.

In 2009, as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, President Barrack Obama provided financial incentives for the adoption of electronic health records. This program provides non-hospital based physician practices with incentives of up to $44,000 from Medicare or $64,000 from Medicaid if they adopt the electronic health record. Incentives have already begun to flow and a significant number of physicians are implementing systems this year.

How will this benefit patients?

Implementation of the electronic health record will improve patient care. In the future health information will be transmitted easily and in a timely manner between the primary care physician, the specialists who provide specialty care and the hospital where the care is provided. If a patient is in an emergent situation, the hospital physician will be able to access key information regarding health history and make a more informed decision for treatment.

There will be less duplication of diagnostic tests, (i.e., less uncomfortable tests and pokes with a needle). We can all look forward to that. Think of how many times in the past you had blood work done but it did not get to the next care giver you were to see. They retested you with the same tests, an inconvenience to you and an added cost to the healthcare system. Electronic health records will minimize these incidents.

Electronic prescribing will make it more convenient to pick up the prescription at the drug store. The order will be sent while the patient is still in the exam room and be ready at the pharmacy when they arrive. Not only will this provide convenience, it will improve health safety. Various studies have indicated that between 2.4 percent and 3.6 percent of prescriptions are filled incorrectly. Healthcare providers will also know immediately if a similar medication was prescribed by a different physician or if the medication to be prescribed will interact with other medications in a harmful way. Ninety-five percent of all pharmacies are already on a common clearinghouse system and able to share prescribing information.

But how secure and private will records be? All manufactures of the electronic health record are required to be certified and meet HIPAA requirements regarding confidentiality. Records will be encrypted as they are transmitted from provider to provider. Also, the patient will have the right to receive an electronic copy of their health record. Instead of taking a file of papers along to a winter getaway, patients can take a "thumb drive" and have all the information necessary to get the necessary care wherever they are.

How will this benefit purchasers

Insurance subscribers or employers pay a portion of healthcare cost. Taxpayers help fund Medicare. It is anticipated that electronic health records offer significant opportunities for reduction of healthcare costs. How?

  • Less duplication of testing and diagnostic services – a major contributor to costs
  • More efficient practices - requiring less staff and office space to organize and maintain large medical records areas. Growth is possible without adding additional staff or space
  • Easier more efficient sharing of detailed information and consultations between providers. The cost of a specialist consult is far less than the cost of many tests that are ordered to diagnose a problem
  • Improved accuracy of billing for services - information in one place in electronic format
  • Less paperwork and greater efficiency for insurance companies to process claims and pay providers

Yes, healthcare visits will change. We will all get used to having a computer or electronic tablet in place of a pen and papers. Though it might feel a bit uncomfortable at first, with the adoption of the electronic health record the quality and efficiency of care will improve. And that will result in a better outcome and an overall experience with the healthcare system.

Published in Healthcare

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