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Electronic health records in 2017: Adoption and barriers

Electronic health records in 2017: Adoption and barriers

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Implementing electronic health records has been a goal of the U.S. government for years. Using information technology in health care has great potential but the whole process turned out to be very slow, both in terms of primary care and hospitals.

There are undeniable clinical, operational, and administrative benefits of embracing EHR in medical care. It helps in having a clear overview of THE patient history and relevant data, it can safely store clinical notes, provide a thorough list of patient’s allergies, make viewing lab and imaging results a lot easier, and much more. It truly can improve patient care and help with increasing the level of safety when it comes to medical practice.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services has defined the stages of the EHR Incentive Programs, aiming to support eligible professionals and hospitals, as well as the critical access hospitals - in implementing the EHR technology and encourage them to contribute to the future upgrading of the program. An extensive final rule that explicated the exact criteria program participants must meet in order to be a part of the program was released in October 2015. This high level of control and transparency is definitely a plus, particularly because of the fact it helps with creating a uniformed electronic health records system all across the U.S.  

However, this shift from paper medical files to an electronic system does not imply a smooth transition. It’s advisable to take a people-centric approach during this process, especially having in mind the often overlooked resistance that comes from medical workers.  

Switching to EHR implies a whole new set of responsibilities and challenges. Going through training and learning how to use the software is just one of the possible hiccups during adoption. For example, physicians are expected to ensure the right conditions for EHR implementation, address clinical needs, and track progress; clinicians need to estimate the real usability of the software in the clinic, handle their sectors’ workflow, and propose updates; non-medical staff is also included for optimal functioning (e.g. office managers and IT professionals).

There are also legal issues that need to be examined. 

There is a risk of medical malpractice: on the one hand, the fact that EHR includes detailed information can help put malpractice to end as the physician can be legally pursued if his error is detectable in electronic records. On the other hand, computer data can be easily manipulated whereas one can hardly fraud a date on the hospital’s official stamp (which can be found in paper files).

The chances for medical error stay pretty much the same, according to one study conducted in 2005. With electronic records, there is a higher risk of compromising sensitive data because of the possibility of hacking attacks or unauthorized access. Medical institutions are obligated to ensure safety stays the top priority, which can be done through adopting comprehensive HIPAA policies. Lastly, medical workers need to be well informed about the differences between the EHR modus operandi and the traditional one. It’s more than just simply changing the way one organizes patient information. The legal framework with EHR is different and so proper training is required to avoid any inconveniences or legal risks. 

There is no doubt adopting electronic health records could help U.S. health system evolve and it certainly means keeping up with the time. However, the carriers of this change have to be aware of the obvious setbacks of the new system and come up with the optimal way of handling security issues: that is the only way both medical workers and patients can benefit from it.

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