Electronic Health Record Use on Rise

As people increasingly depend on electronics and technology to exchange information, it seems only logical that physicians would embrace electronic health records (EHRs) in favor of their paper predecessors.

As people increasingly depend on electronics and technology to exchange information, it seems only logical that physicians would equally embrace electronic health records (EHRs) in favor of their paper predecessors. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, more than half of American doctors have adopted the use of EHRs, exceeding HHS projections for 2013.

“We have reached a tipping point in the adoption of electronic health records,” Secretary Sebelius said. “More than half of eligible professionals and 80% of eligible hospitals have adopted these systems, which are critical to modernizing our healthcare system. Health information technology (IT) helps providers better coordinate care, which can improve patients’ health and save money at the same time.”

EHRs allows physicians and other care providers to efficiently track errors and patients’ quality of care. They can help providers more accurately monitor what tests have been performed, as well as which medications patients have been administered. Ensuring proper protocols will reduce redundant or unnecessary procedures, lower risk of dangerous drug interactions, and provide overall better care management.

Dr Farzad Mostashari, national coordinator for health information technology at HHS, suggested that there may have been initial apprehension in EHR adaptation due to what seemed to be “an enormous task.” Dr Mostashari said, "In 4 years, they've made more progress than in the previous 20 years.” Some doctors’ hesitation seemed to lie in changing the long-standing practice of paper-based records, or typing into a computer instead of taking notes by hand. There were also concerns of privacy and time involved with the transfer to electronic records. The change seemed to truly gain traction with the implementation of provider incentives to use EHRs. In fact, Louise Radnofsky reported that 55% of office-based providers eligible for adopting electronic records have received federally paid incentives. These incentives worked similar in encouraging hospital use of EHRs, with about $8.7 billion in incentive pay outs for their transition to electronic records.

While EHRs certainly benefit physicians and hospitals in more readily sharing information about patients across various networks, there is also another advantage to going electronic: patient engagement.

Instead of a sole focus on a physician’s pay-for-performance, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine physician Dr Jay Sanders suggests there should be incentives for patients to get healthy as well. Through programs like Stage 2 of the Meaningful Use, patients are held more accountable for their own healthcare. Stage 2 of the Meaningful Use in EHR incentive program “requires 5% of patients to log into and upload data via a portal or personal health record for providers to earn bonus Medicare payments.” This type of program obligates patients, as much as their clinicians, in being farther aware of their health problems.

There will be continued and expected growing pains as providers transition to EHRs. This is because there is still much to be accomplished in national standardization of protocols and electronic health data in EHRs. However, as the technology continues to evolve, so will the utilization of EHRs.

Around the Web

Doctors and Hospitals’ Use of Health IT More Than Doubles Since 2012 [Health and Human Services]

Incentives Push Doctors to Electronic Medical Records [USA Today]

Electronic Health Data Gaining Favor [The Wall Street Journal]

Healthcare Reform Too Focused On Doctors: Telemedicine Pioneer [Information Week]