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How Electronic Health Records Can Revolutionize Health Care

In 2004, President George Bush set the goal of having a secure electronic health record (EHR) for most Americans by 2014. The target is to have patient records that can transfer easily between multiple health care organizations and providers. If health information can travel with the patient, it can help doctors, specialists and surgeons collaborate. The faster doctors can share information, the faster they may be able to diagnose a problem, provide treatment options or prep the patient for surgery.

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Portable patient data could eliminate the need to print or fax paper records, and health care professionals wouldn't be limited by distance or location. Doctors can learn more about patients and their health before they ever meet. Health care providers can discover what medication patients are allergic to, what tests have been run in the past, and what treatments methods have already been tried. This can help create a more efficient, less duplicative, health care system.

Another bonus of EHRs is that patients themselves can access their medical information. Instead of being a passive member of the health care system, undergoing examinations and having test results explained by a doctor, individuals can take a more active role in their well being, and this knowledge might motivate them in ways not possible through past methods of data sharing. Patients can show their medical information to family members if they wish, making health care a more communal effort in their lives.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services sees the implementation of EHRs as making good progress in hospitals, according to CIO.com. In 2008, only 9 percent of hospitals in the U.S. were using EHRs with advanced functionality to collect patient data, but that number rose to 44 percent in 2012. Physicians' offices saw a similar uptick: 17 percent were using EHRs in 2008, and that jumped to 40 percent in 2012. As hospitals and health care providers adopt new technology, health information technology training can be an important part of the transition.

The government has dangled a carrot in front of health care facilities to help them move from traditional data gathering and housing methods to digital forms. In the 2009 American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, President Barack Obama and the Congress outlined health information technology goals such as the meaningful use program. This program outlines a set of standards that doctors and hospitals can follow in implementing and using EHRs in order to receive incentive payments. So far, 75 percent of eligible hospitals have earned these incentive payments, along with 73 percent of health care providers. The government is looking to spend up to $29 billion in incentive payments to encourage the steady implementation of EHR systems, Forbes reports.

The public sector isn't the only one interested in health informatics. According to the MoneyTreeReport coauthored by PricewaterhouseCoopers, venture capitalists spent $343 million on health care IT in 2010. That number ballooned to $955 million in 2013. Aza Raskin, cofounder of Massive Health, told Fast Company: "All of these VCs are now starting to put money into the space. And as we start getting some big wins, we're going to see this accelerate. The smartest minds of our generation shouldn't be working on getting us more addicted to Facebook or Twitter; they should be working on helping us get -- and stay -- healthy."

Success in EHR implementation is coming fast. Reliant Medical Group, based in Worcester, Massachusetts, has seen a good return on a $24 million dollar investment in moving their records to a digital format. During the Health IT Summit in Boston on May 7, 2013, Dr. Larry Garber, medical director for Reliant, revealed that medical transcription had been reduced by 63 percent. Reliant has also seen a $2 million dollar increase in its annual revenue since moving to an EHR and raising its Medicare Advantage compliance rates.

As another example of advances in high-tech medicine, the IBM computer that competed on Jeopardy in 2011, Watson, may take its talents to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, according to Forbes. Watson could keep track of patient records, help doctors with diagnoses, and potentially even recommend treatments.

The implementation of new technologies has not been seamless, however. CIO.com describes how CompTIA's Healthcare IT Insights and Opportunities study, showing that only 60 percent of EHR users who responded were satisfied with their system for digital record keeping. Other studies show that 23 percent of health care providers want to switch to a different EHR solution. CompTIA concluded that "IT solution providers must be extra diligent in communicating the steps of the implementation plan, especially in the pre-implementation stage…For many healthcare providers a transition to [EHR] entails not only a physical change in workflow, but also a change in mindset."

Still, medical professionals have high hopes for EHR. "You actually can get true value out of electronic health records if you do it right…" notes Dr. Garber. "This is why we're switching to electronic health records, because if you do it right, you really do hit the triple aim. You really do improve the quality, safety and efficiency of healthcare."

About the Author:

Jamar Ramos has been writing poetry and fiction for many years, and earned his bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. For the last three years, Mr. Ramos switched to producing blog posts for CBSSports.com and writing professionally as an independent contributor for a number of Internet sites. His creative works have been featured in The Bohemian and The San Matean. He now contributes articles for OnlineDegrees.com, OnlineColleges.com, and AlliedHealthWorld.com.

Sources:

5 Ways Technology Is Transforming Health Care, Forbes, Ellen Lee, January 24, 2013, http://www.forbes.com/sites/bmoharrisbank/2013/01/24/5-ways-technology-is-transforming-health-care/

EHR boosts ROI, revenue for med group, Healthcare IT News, Erin McCann, May 8, 2013, http://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/ehr-boost-roi-revenue-medical-group

EHR Implementation Rising, But Hurdles for Healthcare Providers Remain, CIO, Brian Eastwood, May 6, 2013, http://www.cio.com/article/732863/EHR_Implementation_Rising_But_Hurdles_for_Healthcare_Providers_Remain

EMR vs EHR -- What is the Difference, HealthIT.gov, Peter Garrett & Joshua Seidman, January 4, 2011, http://www.healthit.gov/buzz-blog/electronic-health-and-medical-records/emr-vs-ehr-difference/

Facing The Techy Youthful Future Of Health Care, Fast Company, http://www.fastcompany.com/3001695/facing-techy-youthful-future-health-care

Meaningful Use, HealthIT.gov, http://www.healthit.gov/policy-researchers-implementers/meaningful-use

Shopping for an EHR (the second time around), American Medical Association, Sheryl Cash, April 8, 2013, http://www.amednews.com/article/20130408/business/130409959/4/

Health Information Technology, American College of Emergency Physicians, 2013, http://www.acep.org/Advocacy/Health-Information-Technology/