Electronic medical records (EMR)—also referred to as electronic health records (EHR)—were designed to make healthcare records and systems easier for patients, providers, hospitals and databases. The technology is an obvious advantage for a lot of reasons: paper documents take up valuable office space, can easily be stolen or lost, and also are vulnerable to water damage, fires and even poor penmanship.
However, the transition to a paperless EHR system has proved cumbersome and at times presented a greater security risk than the old-fashioned way. Are EHRs simply a replacement of paper or is there more potential to the underlying data sets and workflows enabled by these tools?
Understanding Electronic Medical Records Software
Before discussing the safety of electronic health records, it is important to understand how the government defines them, as it has created many laws and standards by which these software and database tools should be regulated. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services define these systems very specifically:
“An Electronic Health Record is an electronic version of a patient’s medical history, that is maintained by the provider over time, and may include all of the key administrative clinical data relevant to that persons care under a particular provider, including demographics, progress notes, problems, medications, vital signs, past medical history, immunizations, laboratory data and radiology reports.”
Benefits to EHR’s include automation of information collection and storage, streamlining clinician processes, supporting other areas in patient care (such as send an electronic order or prescription), improving the ability to capture and measure quality metrics, and systematizing how outcomes are analyzed and reported (plus, it saves everyone the trouble of trying to read a doctor’s handwriting).
The HITECH Act
Every person in America that receives health services has a vested interest in the safety and security of their own personal healthcare records. For this reason, the federal government has taken measures to create laws on how EHR’s should be regulated. One of the most important pieces of legislation is the HITECH Act (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act). This Act was part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), in part to support the development a system that allowed physicians, hospitals, and other entities to document and exchange healthcare information with the goal of decreasing healthcare costs through a system of sharing.
This law created to monetary incentives for physicians and hospitals to transfer their paper records to a paperless, electronic system. However, there has been much debate as to the success of these transitions. Some have suggested that even tech-savvy physicians have found EHR systems burdensome and time-consuming. In fact, others go a step further, questioning if the transition to EHRs was in the best interest of patient care or simply introduce another layer of bureaucracy.
On March 18, 2019, Schulte and Fry published Death by 1,000 Clicks: Where the Electronic Health Records Went Wrong, for Kaiser Health News. In it, they argued the governments’ purpose for creating EHR’s was to increase healthcare standards for “better, safer, and cheaper options” but that “ten years and $36 billion later, the system is an unholy mess”.
What’s the Future of Electronic Medical Records?
Electronic health records are considered the “foundation of healthcare information technology,” so it is very likely that EHR’s will remain a critical part of healthcare informatics into the future. With a strong foundation in place, what’s in store next for these software tools?
There are four areas trending for growth—automation analytics, genomics-informed medicine, telemedicine, and next-generation analytics. Each of these four areas rely on the data and insights made possible by having a centralized, standardized electronic record of a patient’s health history.
Cybersecurity Threats to Personal Medical Records Software
As with any software, cybersecurity is a threat, and given the sensitive nature of the data stored in EHR systems, this is something that healthcare software experts are especially cognizant of. Traditionally, it’s been said, healthcare lags behind other industries. However, the industry recognizes the seriousness of cybersecurity. The Department of Health and Human Services has a list of changes and tips for health professionals to follow, ranging from protecting mobile devices to access management.
As healthcare systems continue to digitize and store their patients data, IT professionals across the hospital and health system will need to stay well-informed and highly coordinated to protect patients’ personal medical records from breaches and hacks. Given the sensitive nature of our personal health records, considerable effort and resources will be invested to make sure that EHR systems are protected.
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About the Author
Carevoyance contributor Sarah Pike, M.B.A., is a freelance marketing copywriter based in San Diego. She enjoys writing about business, fashion, food, healthcare, leadership, motivation and technology.