The Rising Importance of Electronic Health Records

Recently, electronic health records have come to the forefront of medical reforms. Electronic health records (EHRs) are a digital version of a patient’s medical history that organizes relevant clinical data in real-time to organize and improve the quality of care. Both Congress and the American Medical Informatics Association have reported that EHRs could play a key role in the future of personalized health care.

Personalized health care is an overarching framework for care that unifies predictive technologies with an engaged patient to coordinate care to promote health and prevent disease. Establishing widespread use of EHRs can help physicians keep track of medical advances, utilize appropriate treatments and prescriptions for patients, and coordinate with a patient’s whole medical team, regardless of location. They also provide a way to track overall health outcomes, as well, enabling medical teams to determine the most effective treatments and improve overall quality of care.

Since 2009, there has been a concerted effort from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to improve health information technology, with emphasis placed on integrating EHRs into health care delivery across the country. However, there are still significant barriers to overcome before EHRs can fulfill their potential to positively impact the health care system.

Senator Elizabeth Warren leads a hearing on current problems and the future potential of EHRs.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee has led recent efforts to improve health I.T. and to identify and correct issues in electronic health records, with special focus on the recent Medicare and Medicaid EHR incentive programs. The Committee has set a goal of having a comprehensive network of universally compatible EHRs in the United States by 2020.

The American Medical Informatics Association’s Electronic Health Records in 2020 task force released a report in May of 2015 detailing the current status of EHRs in the United States. The report details current challenges in the adoption of EHRs, including but not limited to the incompatibility of separate health systems’ EHR software, the security of data collected, the simplicity of the record itself, and the administrative burden of data entry on clinicians.

Despite these obstacles, the report notably acknowledges the importance of a strong system of electronic health records for both patients and providers as we move towards developing a more coordinated, proactive, and personalized approach to care. Including patient-generated data, population data and community contexts into an EHR will spur development of new care delivery models, improve population health, aid in the development of precision medicine and support other healthcare transformations.

Effective use of EHRs can lead to concrete improvements in health care quality; studies have demonstrated that giving patients access to their electronic medical record is associated with desirable health outcomes. This suggests that the EHR can also be a valuable tool for engaging patients in their care and improving the skills, knowledge, and abilities to self-manage their health. This means that it is essential for EHRs to offer a level of simplicity and usability. As providers work to integrate more personalized models of care into practice, the technology that supports these fundamental changes must be easy to integrate into daily life.

Click here to view the full AMIA EHR task force report.

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