Electronic Medical Records – better known as ‘EMRs’ – are the talk of the medical record-keeping industry these days.
But they also matter to patients – a great deal, it turns out.
EMRs are, in fact, what they sound like – personal medical records, stored electronically. Remember HIPAA, the healthcare legislation passed years ago? One of the things HIPAA regulated was the sharing of personal health information, subjecting it to heightened security to protect patient privacy. The healthcare world has turned into an online world and electronic medical records are becoming widespread. While online records have raised the need to ensure patient privacy is protected, there are also a number of distinct advantages for patients.
EMRs, (also referred to as EHR – Electronic Health Records) are easily and quickly aggregated, and have been shown to make doctors more efficient. Among the benefits of EMRs:
1. Patient medical records are easily accessible
All of your medical history is stored electronically and can be accessed immediately to diagnose and treat patients. During emergency care – where access to a patient’s blood type, allergies, current medications and other personal health information is critical to treatment – easily accessible information is incredibly valuable to not only a patient but also the healthcare practitioner.
2. Reduction in medical errors
Illegible or incomplete records have lead to medical errors in diagnosing and treating patients, causing serious injury or death. Over the last twenty years, the shift to standardized forms has reduced the number of mistakes. Accurate electronic records improve and strengthen the healthcare system even further.
3. Permanency of Records
Major disasters over the last ten years – Hurricane Katrina amongst them – have resulted in the accidental destruction of many patients’ medical records. Electronic records are far less likely to damaged or destroyed in an accident, and they can help alleviate additional problems that arise from inadequate record handling when patients switch doctors. With most EMR systems backing up in different geographical parts of the country, records are more secure.
Though there are certain significant benefits to EMRs, they also face some challenges. They are time consuming and expensive to implement, and smaller doctor’s offices with fewer staff are reluctant to commit to implementing an EMR system. Loading ten of thousands of pages of records into electronic format is not a simple task. Though the cost of storing electronic data is lower, EMR systems are expensive, require training, and require a significant investment of time to get up and running.
Another major challenge facing the widespread use of EMR revolves around the technology. There are a number of systems out there, and few of them can talk to one another. With multiple standards and little – if any – compatibility between systems – doctor’s offices (as well as other healthcare industry organizations and companies) have been reluctant to commit to any one system. No one wants to invest in a system that may become obsolete, so many doctor’s offices and companies are opting to wait until a dominant national standard emerges.
Last – but certainly not least – are the security and privacy issues that come with online access. While legislation such as HIPAA has helped secure patient records, the risks can be higher with EMRs. There will be countless insurance companies, medical workers, medical billing companies and others with partial access (at least) to patient records. The issue is serious enough that many privacy-rights groups and doctors have expressed deep concerns.
But EMRs are the future of patient health records and everyone should check with their healthcare providers to ensure that any records they have – either paper or electronic are accurate.