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Why the Electronic Health Record is Awesome

If you had to give yourself a grade for being “tech-savvy,” what would you give yourself? If I’m being honest, I’d probably score a very average grade; so either a C+ or a P for progressing, or maybe even an NI for “needs improvement.” My tween kids, however, both get an A+ and an I for “independent.” They can barely tolerate my meandering toggling pace and with 2 taps and a click get 5 things done while I do one. As cliched as it sounds, technology is incredible and evolving at lightning speed, and healthcare is not immune from the development. From medical devices to electronic medical documentation, something new and more capable seems to emerge daily.

I grew up in the days of paper charts in the hospitals and clinics, and now of course we’ve all moved on to electronic health records. These can be daunting in their own way for both patients and the healthcare team, but they are quite powerful and integrated and many are easily accessible, and if you’re not aware of some of the advantages of these systems, then fear not, my PM Pediatrics colleague, electronic health record super user, and gal pal Dr. Eileen Kelly is going to set you straight right here, right now.

Why the Electronic Health Record is Awesome

Eileen A. Kelly, MD

Pediatrician and Clinical Informatics Specialist

The Electronic Health Record, also known as the EHR, is a valuable tool for patients in the age of modern medicine.  Read along and I will tell you why you, too, should embrace this technology.

Safety is the first feature that comes to mind.

The EHR has terrific abilities to decrease medical errors. The EHR remembers your medications and allergies from the previous visit.  It may be able to communicate with your pharmacy to find the name of that medication…you know, the one that’s pink and she takes it twice a day for an ear infection?  The EHR gives doctors, Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants the ability to send prescriptions electronically.  Medication errors have significantly decreased since the adoption of EHRs.  The EHR can flag a medication known to be an allergy for a particular patient or that conflicts with a current medication.  It can alert a dose as too high or too low.  EHRs can even let the team know you already had a flu shot this winter.  They help avoid extra tests, vaccines and procedures.

A more noticeable perk of EHRs is their ability to help monitor your health.

Diabetic patients can communicate their blood sugars to their doctor; heart patients can upload cardiac event monitors to their cardiologist for review.  The EHR in your primary care physician’s (PCP) office can graph your weight, look at your blood pressure over time and track your cholesterol level.  When did you have your last mammogram, ladies? No need to rifle through papers, your PCP’s EHR knows!  All you have to do is allow specialists to communicate with your PCP.   In a hospital setting, some EHRs allow providers to access the latest nationally recognized guidelines for common diseases or the best protocols for patients with a particular kind of cancer, for example.  They help us make more informed decisions in real time.

Less annoying paperwork to fill out is another practical benefit.

The EHR allows the staff at your PCP’s office to review your medical history and important facets of your current health state by storing old information and making it simple to update your records.  It can generate problem centered question lists to help providers get information that will help them learn more about today’s problem.  Many systems have patient portals which allow you to control your own medical information from anywhere with internet access.  Ask your doctor’s office if they have one or plan to.  See below for more information on being your own medical info boss.

The EHR is an enormous force in driving advances in modern medicine.

Behind the scenes, they are a rich source of what is called data mining.  Using information from patient’s charts, researchers are able to perform chart review studies and follow trends of disease with vastly larger numbers and better accuracy.  Don’t worry, patient identifiers are not used without your permission.  Consider the difference between the following two scenarios. The first, hiring someone to sift through the charts of 200 patients hospitalized in the month of February to determine how many had influenza or pneumonia.  Compare that to asking a Health Information specialist in a hospital to run a report to obtain the same data.  A report run in a matter of minutes will retrieve an enormous amount of data compared to manual chart review.  Imagine how many more patients would be available to be considered for a medicine trial study.  How much faster researchers would be able to interpret the data and form conclusions?

Did you know that the billing side of EHRs plays an important role in keeping health care costs down?

By automating certain aspects of billing and coding, the fees charged to the patient or insurance company are more accurate and less influenced by user error.  Claims are filed and processed faster and more exactly.  The ability to run specific reports discourages fraud which is a major factor in the high cost of health care.


What do I need to do?

Look into a personal health record, or PHR, for yourself and your children.  Think of the little vaccine book your mom used to carry.  It is like that but a million times better!  Many hospitals and community health organizations allow to manage a large part of your care via patient portals.  Sign up and log in.  It keeps all your medications, allergies and demographics for you and allows you to update them on your schedule.  Tired of wondering if that strep culture was normal? The patient portal will usually list all your lab and x-ray results.  Unlock your phone and see if there is a PHR app.  This is a must for everyone who carries a smartphone; including tweens and teens.  As an example, Apple has the Health app included on its iPhones.  The Medical ID feature allows EMS workers access to your health information when you are not able to.   Load your phone with life saving information; allergies, medications, medical diagnoses, history of surgeries and hospitalizations.  Include the information needed to contact your PCP and any specialists.  Download and register for your PCP’s patient portal. Become an active participant in your own healthcare in this exciting time for the field of medicine!