Why should providers adopt EHR systems?

The difficulties that many providers face while striving to meet meaningful use standards, as well as the approaching ICD-10 implementation date, have recently been the major topics of discussion in the health care industry. Eligible physicians and hospitals have become focused on important factors, like avoiding penalties for the EHR Incentive Programs.

However, health care providers considering an investment in an electronic health record system should not let these aspects overshadow the benefits EHRs can have on their workflow and patient outcomes. Although adhering to meaningful use is crucial to a successful practice, it is essential that physicians are reminded of these advantages. 

EHRs increase access to accurate information
Multiple surveys and reports have shown the potential that EHR systems can have for practices. One survey performed by the National Center for Health Statistics in 2012 of doctors who had successfully adopted EHRs and were properly prepared for meaningful use showed that the systems have had a major impact on their practices

The survey found that a total of 94 percent of providers across the country who have begun using EHR technology in their practices have seen patient records become increasingly available and accessible at point of care. Meanwhile, 88 percent of EHR users have noticed clinical advantages and 75 percent reported that they have been able to deliver better patient care because of the system's ability to help them make diagnoses. 

These figures represent the fact that with an EHR system, physicians are able to access essential information and data that is important to patient visits and quality care with ease. This data is also correct more often than it is in a paper-based setting, resulting in the reduction of input errors and serious mistakes that impact patient treatment.

Patient outcomes are also enhanced due to the system's ability to improve diagnoses of diseases, which have proved an issue for some providers in the past who have relied on paper to record important information. According to HealthIT.gov, the comprehensive visual the EHR system provides can aid physicians in quickly diagnosing their patients.

Patient safety and patient care 
According to the survey, the majority of practices that have adopted EHRs have found that they are better able to ensure the safety of patients' private health information. This in turn greatly enhances overall patient outcomes. However, it is not always clear to those unfamiliar with the ins and outs of health care technology as to how an EHR system improves patient safety and outcomes. 

iHealthBeat explained that EHRs compute patient information instead of simply transmitting it, manipulating the data in a way that is meant to protect patients and ensure high quality of care. The technology assesses patients' medical records to see if there are any potential conflicts after a new medication is prescribed. Paper documents only serve as a method to keep a record of a patient's health, such as his or her current medication, and will not alert the doctor to these problems.

Another way that EHRs improve patient safety is through their ability to notify a physician in other settings, such as an emergency department, about any allergies gathered by the primary care provider that temporary doctors should know about as they care for the patient. In situations where the patient is unable to speak or give important information, EHRs have a great advantage over paper documentation. 

Perhaps the greatest aspect of EHRs is how quickly they can identify and fix operational problems. This can take a matter of seconds when done electronically. However, in practices that continue to use paper records, noticing and correcting such issues can take much longer – from months to even years. 

The benefits of specialty EHRs 
For physicians who work in specialty practices, such as orthopedics and neurology, there are EHR systems that are designed specifically for the unique workflow and daily procedures that take place. Therefore, physicians who adopt a specialty EHR to their practice will find that they receive the benefits of a general EHR, but with advantages that go beyond accessible information and efficient documentation processes. 

One of the most beneficial aspects of specialty EHR systems is that they work with both large and small practices. It is often the case that with general EHRs, smaller practices run into problems, as the program was designed with templates and tools that they do not need and have to spend time navigating around. 

High-end specialty EHRs are often developed by professionals who are familiar with the specific practice. This ensures that all of the features are created by physicians who are familiar with the specific workflow and who have the knowledge base to make the program as efficient as it can be.

When it comes to adhering to meaningful use standards, EHRs designed for a specific practice will be more effective at assisting physicians in doing so, with support features that make meeting these standards a foreseeable goal.