Are EHRs Dead?: Jim Gerrity, Ciena Responds

Jim Gerrity

Are EHRs dead? Well, Healthcare IT News’ Eric Wicklund recently reported that EHR vendors “will have to find a way to modify their products to focus on data that the patient and his or her care team want, or they’ll become obsolete.” Will EHRs become so obsolete so soon after the height of their heyday? When further explained, some of the reasoning makes sense.

According to panelists at the Partners HealthCare’s 10th Annual Connected Health Symposium, we’re in the time of “para-EHR,” defined as all of the phone calls, texts, e-mails and other doctor-doctor and doctor-patient communications that are not entered into the EHR. They could include everything from Skype chats between doctors to Post-It notes to data residing on mobile devices and sensors.

As such, complete records are not being entered into the EHR, and most patient communication takes place outside the EHR setting. But, are EHR’s dead and flat line or do they have some life left in them? I posted the question to Jim Gerrity, director at Ciena.

Are EHRs dead? “The short answer is ‘no,’ however, what is contained in today’s EHR will most likely evolve.  Let me expand on this a bit: Paper-based records are still the most widely used method in the healthcare industry, but that’s changing rapidly. EHRs are proving to significantly improve clinical efficiency and coordination and being adopted increasingly by healthcare institutions around the world. A relatively recent example in the U.S. was their great usefulness to provide continued care during and immediately after Superstorm Sandy … e-records backed up and accessible at disaster recovery sites. As one writer put it, EHRs are ‘ushering in a new era in how medical data is stored and shared.’ But is this transition to EHRs required?

“In the U.S., healthcare industry administrators and members of Congress have come to realize the potential of EHRs for both positively influencing patient’s medical outcomes, as well as generating significant per capita savings in medical expenses. Congress has responded to this by deciding to encourage widespread usage of EHRs with the enactment of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) as part of the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009. Under its provisions a number of incentives were established, each aimed at inducing healthcare institutions across the nation to make the transition from paper-based record systems to EHR. Congress also instituted a number of penalties for failure to adopt a system employing the meaningful use of electronic medical records, and as a means of creating an industry-wide incentive for making the transition to this more advance, and economical way of administering medical data.

“While the term ‘mandate’ has been widely used to describe this overall program of incentives and penalties for adopting EHR, there is no legally binding requirement for healthcare organizations to convert their traditional record keeping systems. However, if medical institutions wish to both take advantage of the incentives, and avoid the penalties enacted under the provisions of HITECH, they have until the end of 2014 to begin making the transition to EHRs.

“Will EHRs change/evolve? There has been talk among U.S. healthcare leaders and clinicians that today’s EHR does not adequately address the ‘clinical efficiency’ aspect. There’s what’s referred to as ‘para-EHR’ information; information not contained in today’s EHR, such as phone calls, texts, e-mails and other doctor-doctor and doctor-patient communications. It also includes everything from Skype chats between doctors to Post-It notes to data residing on mobile devices and sensors. The EHR of the future, so to speak, might contain this vital info.

“So, in my humble opinion, healthcare continues to go through a major digital transformation and will continue down this path, and EHRs/digital records will remain in place as one key ‘tool’ to improve the quality of care, increase the access to care, while helping to reduce costs and improve efficiencies. Will today’s EHR technology need to change, too?  Fundamentally, I don’t think so, but vendors may need to add new features/capabilities, and certainly improve on interoperability, but the core purpose and technology is not going away any time soon.”

Stay tuned for a series on the topic, “Are EHRs Dead?” Industry leaders sound off on their opinions of the technology and what’s next for foundational software.

2 comments on “Are EHRs Dead?: Jim Gerrity, Ciena Responds”

Thanks for the comment, Kevin, and the compliment. I think meaningful use actually has served as a catalyst for the implementation of EHRs given the incentives; however, from my experience working with an EHR company, and now covering the technology, I think it’s pretty obvious that meaningful use has pretty severely hampered innovation of the technology. Vendors, which were once focused on developing software and creating new solutions, are now being cattle prodded into a corral with every other vendor, all of them seeking ways to efficiently navigate regulation and reform under extremely tight timelines. Certainly, innovation suffers as they focus on MU requirements, and, perhaps, so do users of the systems.

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