15 Years Later: The State of Electronic Health Records

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Baha Zeidan

By Baha Zeidan, CEO, Azalea Health.

The push to develop and deploy electronic health records (EHRs) over the past 15 years has brought many changes to the healthcare industry, but the work to fully realize their benefits — and harness their true potential — is not done.

The goal was to decrease costs and improve healthcare quality. While noble in concept and a notion that could revolutionize healthcare, fifteen years later, has it lived up to its promise?

Electronic records have resulted in tremendous benefits to both patients and providers. However, there is still an opportunity to continue to fully embrace the power of technology and data to improve patient outcomes and simplify the patient experience, especially regarding EHRs.

Electronic records have helped ensure that patients are educated about their medical history and that doctors have the information to make crucial — and potentially lifesaving — decisions. EHRs are no different from any new technology; there is always an opportunity to improve.

EHRs improved the patient experience

Over the past decade-and-a-half, the flow of information in our daily lives has hastened, and the desire to see information in real-time has extended to the medical industry.

Before EHRs, the doctor would have to wait for lab results, review them and then contact the patient to discuss the implication. Now, patients and doctors can quickly communicate the impact — such as the treatment plan and potential prescriptions — through the portal.

Previously, if patients had a post-appointment question, they might have a problem. They could call the office and hope it didn’t start a game of phone tag; if it did, they might not confirm an answer to their question until their next in-person appointment.

EHRs power patient portals, allowing patients to go online to assess and review their medical records, and if they have a question, they can post it and retain a digital record of the questions and answers. It also allows patients to see their appointment history and medications, request refills and schedule appointments.

The portal saves time for both patients and providers. Phone calls are now portal messages, and the time formerly expended on back-and-forth phone calls allows both sides to be more productive and informed.

Another benefit of EHRs is the portability of records.

Before, if patients wanted to change doctors, they needed to request printed copies of their records to take to their new provider — and many providers charged. Certified EHRs are required to generate a continuity of care document (CCD) that can be shared electronically.

Telehealth extended electronic records’ benefits.

Adopting technology and video calling improved access and allowed providers to elevate their offerings and improve patient care. It was a huge enabler of extending healthcare beyond just the four walls of traditional healthcare provider offices, enabling more access to providers through telehealth.

COVID-19 quickened adoption.

Telehealth during covid allowed patients who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to get to a facility to receive care. And doctors could give care without bringing sick patients into the office. This benefit was — and still is — especially realized in rural communities, where access to care is even more limited and was harder hit during the pandemic.

Make EHRs an enabler of care

The intention of making healthcare more affordable with legislation such as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was genuine — and perhaps the measure slowed the rate of cost increases. But overall, our healthcare costs continue to increase.

Why ACA didn’t provide more affordable healthcare is a more complicated question.

Providers have traditionally wanted patients to be proverbially locked within their walls. There’s a term for when a patient goes to another health system: patient leak. The result is limited healthcare options for many patients and increased costs.

However, more widespread adoption and use of EHRs can empower both patients and providers. The improved ease of transporting the data can expand healthcare options for patients and allow providers to deliver better care, no matter where the patient previously received care.

If the industry is to bring down healthcare costs and deliver the patient experience everyone deserves, it’s time to democratize patient data. The future of EHRs is moving from data capture to an enabler of care.

The future is now

The most significant promise of EHRs is their potential to reduce provider burnout. Properly deployed, EHR systems simplify processes and increase efficiencies, helping providers gain time rather than adding to their day-to-day administrative burdens.

Electronic records do not just document patient encounters; it’s about looking at the data captured and determining the best path forward.

Providers on the fence about the benefits of EHRs should look at the technology as an enabler. These systems empower providers and patients to focus on their care and better outcomes.

Integrating artificial intelligence into EHRs could be a powerful addition and a logical next step. It can identify patterns and trends, which can help improve diagnoses and treatment plans.

Because the applications of AI in healthcare are in their infancy, we don’t know specifically where it will take us or how it will evolve. Its deployment could lead to the most significant healthcare transformation in decades.

When EHRs deliver a quality patient experience while streamlining the provider’s functions, everyone wins.

That’s the promise of EHRs. Let’s remember it and continue to work to make healthcare’s future brighter and better for everyone.

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