Healthcare Reform and
Electronic Medical Records

by Brian Van Zandt

You’ve probably heard of the terms Electronic Medical Records (EMR) and Electronic Health Records (EHR).  (For the purpose of this article, Electronic Medical Records (ERM) and Electronic Health Records (EHR) are synonymous). You might have even been to a doctor’s office that is no longer using paper charts and has adopted an EMR/ EHR system.  In the next few years this trend will continue. More doctors and hospitals will be adopting Electronic Health Record Systems and soon it will be the standard across the county.  Why is this happening and how will it affect you as a patient?

There has been a great deal of talk about Health Care Reform since the ARRA bill (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) was signed into law in February of 2009 by the federal government. There are many different aspects of the Health Care Reform Bill. A major portion of the ARRA is the HITECH Act. HITECH stands for Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health. This bill allocates $19.2 Billion dollars of taxpayer’s money, which is intended to increase the use of Electronic Health Records by physicians, hospitals and other health care providers.

What does all of this mean to the taxpayer and why is the government spending that amount of money? The overall goal to obtain broad EMR adoption is to reduce health care costs, improve care coordination, reduce medical errors, improve quality of care and promote evidence based medicine.

The first step in the process is to expand adoption of EMR systems to all physicians and hospitals across the country. Once that is achieved, health information can easily be shared and the true benefits will be realized. In the next 5 – 10 years the majority of physicians are expected to have implemented EMR solutions and paper charts will be a thing of the past.

So what changes can we as patients expect to see from the implementation of EMR systems? The current paper chart system allows for many inefficiencies. Clearly the electronic chart will eliminate the need for hand written notes that account for countless medical errors due to illegible handwriting.  

EMRs will also provide the ability to share health information, known as Health Information Exchange (HIE). Each patient encounter will be documented. This information may then be shared with the appropriate providers such as specialist and hospitals. By sharing information easily in real time, quicker and more informed decisions can be made leading to earlier, more accurate diagnosis and proper treatments.

EMRs will also serve as a driver to reduce health care costs. According to data from the Institute of Medicine, on average, only about 55 percent of services actually benefit patients. By some estimates, the U.S. wastes $700 billion each year on unnecessary or duplicate tests and procedures that don’t improve patient health. Duplicate procedures are often performed unnecessarily due to unshared information. Care coordination will improve, as physicians will be able to communicate better as patients are sent from their primary care doctor to specialists, hospitals and other health care providers. Many times patients are sent to specialists without the proper medical history being provided. Doctors may not know all of the medications a patient is taking which could lead to fatal drug to drug interactions. Electronic Medical Record systems have built in ability to check for drug to drug interactions and drug to allergy interactions. Basic checks and balances functionality like these that are built into the EMRs and will help save lives. This is something paper charts could never offer.

Evidence based care is an advantage that no one can argue. Doctors will be able to report statistics on their patient population and treatment for specific illnesses. These statistics can be used to improve outcomes. Consider this, if you have a particular illness or disease that you are seeking medical attention for and that illness can be treated in one of several different ways, wouldn’t you want the doctor to recommend the treatment that is proven to be most successful?  When all doctors across the country report on specific diagnoses and the treatment of particular illnesses, evidence based care will become a standard. The government will be able to determine what treatments are most successful for treating specific diseases. It is possible that physicians who are performing the right procedures and providing the proper treatment will be rewarded and physicians who are not may be penalized.

EMR software will have a patient portal that will allow the patient secure online access to their personal health information. This will be a major convenience for patients as currently it is difficult to track medications and medical history especially as we get older. Switching doctors or moving to a new city will be much easier as your health history can easily be sent to your new physician. Emergency care will improve as emergency responders will be able to access information about a patient while in route and they will also be able to send vital information to the hospital prior to arriving. EMRs will close the gaps and complete the circle of care that paper charts cannot provide. Overall, EMR will lead to more timely, efficient and effective care, resulting in healthier patients and quicker turnarounds.

We are in the early stages of all of these transformations. Many of the rules, protocols and standards for a national health information network (NHIN) are being developed now. Once the framework for health information exchange has been finalized, the benefits mentioned earlier in this article will become a reality for the American Health Care System.

Brian Van Zandt is a Senior Account Executive with NST, a Health Information Technology company that specializes in working with medical practices and provides EMR/ EHR implementations services as well as proactive network support. NST is a preferred IT vendor for both Regional Extension Centers in NY State, NYC REACH and NYeC. Visit our website athttp://www.nst-li.com/healthcare.html

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