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EHRs Becoming Mainstream with Practitioners and Patients

Patients are Embracing EHRs

“The views of patients must be front and center as we take the next steps in implementing health IT”.  These words, spoken by Sandra R. Hernández, President and CEO of the California HealthCare Foundation, reflect the overall sentiment of healthcare providers nationwide who are switching to Electronic Health Records (EHRs). Not only do EHRs improve diagnosis accuracy, coordination of care and practice efficiency, they also increase patient participation in their own healthcare. A recent survey by the National Partnership for Women & Families has produced some very good news when it comes to patient engagement with EHRs and patient’s use of health technology. It also unveils what’s important to patients when it comes to their own health records

Patients want EHRs to Add More Features

Traditional health information technology has focused on the needs and wants of doctors, hospitals and vendors, but more and more, these same practitioners are finding that electronic access to this data is exactly what the doctor ordered for their patients.  For instance, the survey data says that 85-96% of all patients found EHRs useful in various aspects of care delivery—to the point of requesting more functionality and online features than are currently available. Features, such as being able to email providers (56% surveyed), review treatment plans (56%), access doctor’s notes (58%) and test results (75%), schedule appointments (64%) and submit medication refill requests (59%) were all mentioned as desirable. The study was broken down into demographics to understand the disparities in under-served populations.  Hispanic adults were significantly more likely than non-Hispanic Whites (78% vs. 55%) to say that having online access to their EHRs increases their desire to do something about their health. African American adults were among the most likely to say that EHRs are helpful in finding and correcting medical errors and keeping up with medications.

Practitioners are Switching to  EHRs

Many health care practitioners pay out-of-pocket to transfer their records over to an electronic system (some pay up to $500 a month). This survey offers guidance for enhancing the effectiveness of care and guiding delivery systems reform.  This survey offers recommendations for providers, so that they can be in tune with patient needs to ensure a successful outcome to their business practices and administration.
Patients’ online access to EHRs has nearly doubled, from 26% in 2011 to 50% in 2014 according to the survey.  This is not surprising, given the switch over to all things digital.   A recent study co-authored by Jaeyong Bae, a professor in Northern Illinois University’s (NIU) College of Health and Human Sciences, states that physicians have typically been against change and want to stick with what they know works.  However, that same study found that hospitals that did not use electronic health records saw medical errors increase by 14%. This is a clear sign that efficiency needs to be improved in provider’s records.  In fact, hospitals across the country are being encouraged to adopt the new electronic system, thanks in part to the 2011 Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) act and nearly $30 billion in incentives.

The general consensus is that everyone will eventually conform to EHR standards. The burden on the business owner who does not conform will be to keep their records safe.  As Jim Fatz, Director of Investigations in the Department of Information Technology Services at NIU says, “The software used for health records is no different than any other system that compiles personal information.”  He goes onto say that if people can trust websites such as Amazon or Paypal with personal information, hospitals can be trusted with patient records.

EHRs Move Forward Despite Concerns

One of the National Partnership for Women & Families survey findings was that patients’ trust in the privacy and security of EHRs has increased since 2011, and patients with online access to their health information have a much higher level of trust in their doctor and medical staff (77%) than those with EHRs that don’t include online access (67%).There is much debate about the privacy and security of online records and there is also much to debunk those worries.  Jim Fatz believes that while medical records do contain a wealth of information that can be used for identity theft, there is no reason for concern as long as HIPAA standards are met in the guidelines.
The importance of the shift toward EHRs is the interoperability of health data and systems.  Empowerment of individuals to address gaps in information exchange and interoperability, and the ability to take steps to improve their health needs is at the core of the patient outcome.

Clearly, the shift toward EHRs is moving at a more rapid pace.  With the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) emphasizing how the lack of interoperability in healthcare record systems isn’t just an irritation; it can result in lost test results, dangerous drug prescription interactions and the delay of life-saving procedures.  Nowhere is this more prevalent than with the military healthcare network.  We are asking our military to put their lives at risk in defense of the nation, yet if injured, medical records are not easily accessed. Even though all 50 states have some form of health information exchange services available to support care, there is still a long way to go to get the individual practitioners on board.  In the meantime, patients seem to be on board and pleased about the move to EHRs.

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