An EHR, or an electronic health record, is a digital version of a person’s overall medical history. EHRs are maintained by one provider, but can be shared to specialists and other medical caregivers when needed to maintain accurate information. All key clinical data that is relevant to the development of a treatment plan is maintained in this one file.
Information may include progress or interview notes, medications being taken, a history of medical appointments, and even demographic information.
The advantage of using electronic health records is that they offer a higher level of accuracy. Instead of relying on word-of-mouth information, providers can instantly access the file to determine what has happened over time to the health of a patient.
The disadvantage of EHRs is that, like any other item that has been digitized, there is a risk that it could be accessed by an unauthorized party. It isn’t just hackers that could find themselves in the medical file of a patient. The US Department of Health and Human Services notes a complaint where an HMO sent an entire medical record to a disability insurance company without authorization.
Here are some additional advantages and disadvantages of electronic health records to think about and discuss.
List of the Advantages of Electronic Health Records
1. There is a financial incentive for medical providers.
Medical providers who computerize their traditional records with a certified EHR provide the necessary demonstration of meaningful use that the US government requires. That allows them to obtain or continue receiving the financial incentives that programs such as Medicaid or Medicare offer. Government mandates encourage the use of an EHR to make patient care more efficient.
2. Proper information is easier to document.
Most electronic health record systems make it possible to create templates. Those templates direct caregivers to enter specific notes or records for every patient, making it possible to accurately document required information on a patient-to-patient basis. Even though different visits might require different documentation, the EHR makes it possible to stop data loss by offering reminders of what needs to be done.
3. Patients have better access to their medical records.
With an electronic health records initiative, many medical providers have created online portals. These portals allow patients to access their medical records whenever they wish, as long as they have a secure data or internet connection. This allows every patient to reference a treatment plan or understand how their doctor sees their current state of health at any time.
4. It saves time.
When a patient portal is introduced with an EHR system, it can be setup so that patients can input their own data directly into their records. Instead of spending 20 minutes filling out paperwork at the doctor’s office before a visit, they can enter their data directly into their file days, if not weeks, before their scheduled visit. It saves them time and it saves time on the administrative work by the medical provider.
5. Orders can be initiated with greater speed.
With an EHR system, doctors can immediately place orders for imaging or laboratory work. This reduces the chance of an error occurring because the handwriting of the doctor is difficult to decipher. This benefit extends to the placement of a prescription order as well. An electronic order can be sent directly to the pharmacy of choice for a patient. By the time a person gets to the pharmacy, their order could potentially be ready.
6. Billing can become more accurate.
Electronic records can also capture the use of facility resources more accurately, making it possible for the billing record of a patient to be more accurate. Although patients may not see any change because of this advantage, third-party payers, such as an insurance company, will have a complete record for activity and charges. This can maximize the revenues that a medical provider can achieve.
7. It can be a tool for preventative health.
Medical providers have access to all patient data immediately with an electronic health record. If it has been 10 years and a patient comes in for their annual checkup, the doctor can inform that person it would be a good idea for them to have their tetanus vaccine updated. Cancer screenings, cholesterol testing, and other potential preventative actions which may be due can also be accurately communicated to each patient.
List of the Disadvantages of Electronic Health Records
1. HIPAA violations are more common than many realize.
A HIPAA violation can cost anywhere from $100 to $1.5 million when it is reported or detected. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was first initiated in 1996 so that national standards for security and confidentiality could be set in the US. An employee doesn’t need to lose a computer or access a patient file without permission. A doctor talking to their family about a patient’s health is a violation too. Without proper training, these violations can hamper the medical care a patient receives.
2. Hackers don’t need to access patient files to restrict them.
Ransomware attacks in 2017, initiated through malware and other security access problems on electronic health record servers, cost numerous hospitals thousands of dollars per incident. This software encrypts the EHR, making it inaccessible until a “ransom” is paid to restore the data. Even if the ransom is paid, there is no guarantee that the files weren’t copied and distributed to other people either.
3. It must be updated on a regular basis.
Like any software solution, an electronic health record platform must receive regular updates so that it can perform as needed. Not every software creator does this. If a medical provider selects a system that receives infrequent updates, they could be placed at a disadvantage over time when compared to facilities that do receive regular updates.
4. What happens if a doctor doesn’t have computer access?
Although many specialists have interview rooms where a computer is permanently installed, this isn’t the case for general practitioners or family providers. Small offices may have a doctor carry a laptop or tablet to maintain their electronic health records. If the doctor forgets the electronic device, then gaps of information may begin to appear in the patient record. Data collected in real time is more accurate that data that is recalled, even if the space of that recall is 15 minutes or less.
5. Electronic health record systems are not cheap.
Medical facilities must invest a considerable amount, often measured in millions of dollars, to setup, maintain, and train people on an EHR. System updates may have a cost to them. Many facilities need to hire IT professionals or outsource their tech needs to keep the system running as effectively as possible.
The advantages and disadvantages of electronic health records make it much easier to access critical data, but there must be protections in place to keep that data out of unauthorized hands.
What do you see being the primary advantages and disadvantages of electronic health records?