EHRs may help patients stick to medication schedules

As is the case with any new technology adopted into the medical industry, true value rests in its ability to improve patients' quality of care. Until recently, electronic health records have largely been criticized for their incomplete user-end development and tendency to increase busy work for physicians. However, a new study may indicate that while there are still problems to work out in the systems, EHRs can positively impact the patient experience.

EHRs remind patients
Kaiser Permanente led the longitudinal study that explored the effects of EHRs on the rate that diabetic patients would keep to their medication schedules. Conducted between 2006 and 2007, the study looked at 17,760 patients in Northern California who were given diabetes and cholesterol medicine for their conditions, with some given the option of exclusively using Kaiser Permanente's online health portal to track and refill their prescriptions.

The study split the patients into three groups. The control group did not use the online EHR, while the second section of patients used the portal at least once and as often as "occasionally." Finally, the test group used the online system exclusively for all their tracking and refilling needs.

The test group was found to have a 6 percent decrease in its instances of medication non-adherence and cholesterol level fluctuations compared to the other groups.

Kaiser Permanente's online portal offered more data, such as test results and access to extensive health records, and researches believed that the abundance of information could have helped patients stick to their medication plans.

Andrew J. Karter, Ph.D., senior author and research scientist at the Kaiser Permanent Division of Research in Oakland, explained that while the obvious benefits of the study include increased efficiency for pharmacies and other prescription delivery systems, the patients also received improved quality of care by adhering to their medication schedules.

"This research is an important step in understanding the benefits of portals beyond convenience," Urmimala Sarkar, M.D., lead author and assistant professor at the University of California San Francisco, said in a press release. "Given the clear connection between medication adherence and improved health outcomes, this study provides insight into how online portals may improve health outcomes."

Patient-centric approach to EHRs
The Kaiser Permanente study may point to just one of the many benefits that EHRs could offer patients once the systems are fully integrated into medical practices. explained that most people prefer an electronic system that reminds them of their various duties when it comes to medical procedures and drugs.

According to their findings, 92 percent of surveyed patients were happy that they had filled and received prescriptions through an electronic system. Also, 76 percent said that this system made obtaining new medications easier, and 63 percent reported that they had fewer mistakes with their prescriptions.

While patients are satisfied with the use of EHRs in automating prescription services, providers are as well. The number of after-hours clinic calls fell with the use of electronic systems.