Five Things to Know About Electronic Health Records

Money magazine offers five things to know about electronic health records. It’s a very high-level overview, mostly for the consumer market, and is a piece designed to get some skin in the healthcare game. The piece pithy and concise, which is good, as the publication is clearly unable to dig into health IT topics like a site like this, but is it worth the ink?

You decide. Let us know. Tell us if it’s a “me too” moment, which I happen to believe is the case. I think the magazine should stick to covering money and leave health IT alone, but that’s a lone opinion.

And so, without further ado, here are five things to know about electronic health records, if you don’t already:

Chances are, patients will see them, if they have not already and will ask about them.

According to Money, “more than half of physicians have started keeping electronic medical records, the federal government announced this year. About 80 percent of hospitals have gone digital, too, with urban institutions leading the way.”

Patients such as myself will be asking about them. Do yourself a favor and begin to realize that. Talk with your patients about them if questions arise. It’s a pet peeve of mine when caregivers at my doctor’s office try to change the subject or look at me as though I am trying to sell something when I bring up the subject of EHRs.

EHRs can improve patient health — and protect patients’ wallets.

“Electronic records, while not a cure-all, can help cut problems such as duplicate tests and prescription errors. Electronic prescription forms, for example, can guard against incorrect dosages and harmful interactions with other medications. A preventable drug error during a hospital stay, one study found, added an average $8,750 in costs.”

This, of course, is only true when there is no operator error or codes and other crossfires happen. They can and do, with deadly results. Though this point is a political and PR bullet, let’s remember than technology being what it is and humans being what they are (error prone) and bad things can still happen.

Patients get a look, too.

“Pushed by the feds, hospitals with advanced systems will roll out online portals by October (some have already), making it easy for you to see your file. Clinicians begin in January. So start asking providers whether they have records you can view. Potential benefits: catching mistakes and easily pulling lab results to show a specialist in another hospital network.”

See earlier points. If asked about the EHRs, answer. Don’t shy away and don’t be too scared to show us, your patients, what’s in the thing. After all, if I request my health record, you’ve got to show it to me.

EHRs can create new problems.

“Electronic records aren’t immune to mistakes (as I’ve said). Studies show that dropdown menus in record systems make it easy for physicians to introduce authoritative-looking errors. Also, patients reading their doctor’s notes could be tempted to research their condition and improperly self-medicate, or suffer “undue stress” from a mention of minor abnormalities in lab results.”

Privacy is still an issue.

“Digitization doesn’t make it more likely that employers or insurers will pry, since their access rules haven’t changed. Just read release forms to see how your data might be used. Snooping by hospital personnel, though, can be a problem; some facilities don’t have systems for checking that. Hackers are a threat, too.”

Well enough said, and very true.

Also, of note. As we all know, paper is not going anywhere.

There is still going to be a great deal of paper in each practice; EHRs are not a cure all for the stuff. We’re a long way away from paper-free offices,, and we may never be.

That, too, (the paper-free office) is a PR ploy created by vendors to sell more systems. Let’s begin to end that myth, shall we? 

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