In the last 20 years, we have become used to having almost anything we wanted access to available over the internet. With a simple keystroke, we can watch movies, read news, post photos, sell and buy products, provide customer service, and perform banking functions. Absent from this list for a long time has been the access to and sharing of individual health records by the patient.
In an episode of Seinfeld, Elaine angers her physician, who then jots down something negative about her on her medical “chart.” She spends the rest of the episode trying to get her chart from the doctor to see what he wrote about her, even employing Kramer as “Dr. Van Nostrand from the Clinic” for help in retrieving it. Of course, their scheme failed.
She had no power over, or access to, her personal medical information.
However, patient power has arrived in the form of electronic health records systems (EHR). Now, the patient can have access to their records from anywhere on the planet, provided a computer and internet are available.
Similarly, one’s therapeutic relationships can be brought together through powerful EHR technology that links a vast universe of medical providers with patient information. Now, medical professionals, from physicians to pharmacists, may have access to these pertinent records via the internet, thereby lowering the cost of providing medical care, and saving time and money, not to mention, possibly, a life.
Following are ten benefits the patient can expect by using medical professionals who employ an EHR system:
1) Save money – Greater efficiency, clearer communication between medical professionals, paperless information, safer care, and automated updates and alerts will help reduce overall health costs for the medical professional, which will, in turn, benefit the patient.
2) Privacy – Those who implement EHR systems must run security risk checks against their policy to look for holes and inadvertent doors to the hosted patient records. No longer will your paper files be tossed out in a dumpster, or shredded by someone who has not undergone a background check. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology has set EHR guidelines and best practices to help create a secure environment to protect patient rights and information.
3) Emergencies – If a heart attack occurs, EMT’s may be able to access one’s medical records to get a snapshot of their medical history to help determine what kind of treatment would be most appropriate for that particular individual even before they get to a hospital.
4) Safety –Perhaps one is seeing a specialist or two in addition to their regular physician. More than likely, the patient will have no understanding of how different drugs work or don’t work together. Now, each unique doctor one visits will have access to records that reveal which drugs that person is using so as not to prescribe something that may conflict and cause harm, or worse, to the patient.
5) Less paperwork – Who is not super busy these days? Filling out forms at a doctor’s office can be time-consuming for the patient. Additionally, it takes time to create new paperwork and then file it for the office administrator, and this costs money. This is more than about going “green.” It is about reducing work, saving time, money, and keeping a tree or two, in the meantime, doesn’t hurt.
6) Accurate information – Doctors are famous for having terrible handwriting. A paper chart may be confusing for another attending physician to read. Taking time to interpret this writing wastes money and is an inconvenience to everyone involved. Now, the information is legible in typed form, thereby reducing any misreads that can lead to misapplication. Also, let’s say one has an ultrasound machine take pictures of them due to an injury – now, those pictures can be uploaded remotely to an EHR system providing more accurate information in case another doctor needs access to it at another date.
7) Coordinate care with other doctors – Sharing patient information on a timely basis between medical professionals has not always been a speedy process. Now, up-to-date information can be readily accessed. Nothing gets lost in the mail, and diagnosis and treatment can start immediately.
8) Immediate access to one’s records – Like Elaine, one may want to see what is in their records. This could be for legal or medical reasons, or solely for the sake of curiosity. Regardless of the motivation, a computer and the internet will give one access to and power over their health records.
9) Efficiency – Time is always a premium, and has been mentioned several times in this piece so that an efficient EHR system will save both money and time. For instance, prescriptions can be sent directly to a pharmacist who can have them ready upon the patient’s arrival, reducing one’s wait time to get the medicine they need.
10) Permanence – In the past, when a doctor retired, their patient’s medical records would typically end up in shredding machines. Now, they are permanent and cannot be lost due to a fire, or stolen by an identity thief. Also, the patient will not have to host and secure boxes of personal and family medical records in a storage facility as they will be eternally housed online.
EHR systems can improve doctor-patient relationships while increasing the accuracy, speed of diagnosis, and treatment while reducing overall health care costs. As importantly, the patient now has more power and control over their health records information.