9 Benefits of Electronic Health Records
Electronic health records directly benefit the health care system and society on a whole—they can cut costs and collect data—but currently the greatest benefit is to you. They provide extra safety measures and give you easier access to your doctor and medical information, says Corley.
1. Personal Access
Electronic records allow you to access your health information from a smartphone, tablet, or computer—no matter where you are. This can come in handy for information that previously may have taken several phone calls to discover. For example, if you forget how to take the medication that your doctor prescribed, you can go online to access your doctor’s notes about how to take it, says Corley.
2. Fewer Errors
It’s not unheard of for doctors to misunderstand, mistype, or otherwise forget a piece of health data. With electronic records, you can check to make sure all your information is correct. “There are a lot of opportunities, if people have a second pair of eyes on their medical information, to reduce the potential for errors as a result of prescribing,” says Siminerio. As an added bonus, electronic records are getting people involved in their health, says Myrie. “It’s enabling and empowering patients in a new way so they can have access to their information,” she says. “They can review it and distill it at their own time and own pace.”
3. Patient Portals
One of the requirements for government certification for an electronic medical record system is that it must incorporate an online patient portal available for people to easily access their health information. Portals serve as gateways to your test results, current medications, and doctor’s notes. Log on to your provider’s patient portal to schedule appointments, e-mail your doctor, pay your bills, and get health maintenance reminders.
4. Doctor Access
It’s helpful for your doctor to have access to your medical records from anywhere, particularly in emergency situations. Lizerbram tells the story of an ER doctor’s phone call to a primary care physician who was out of town at a medical conference. The emergency room doctor needed medical information about a patient—and fast. The primary care physician was able to pull up that patient’s history on his iPad and give the ER doctor the information he needed. “The people caring for a patient don’t have to make decisions in a vacuum,” says Corley.
5. Information Exchange
In an ideal world, all electronic health records would talk to on another—imagine a single, secure site fed data from all of your health care providers’ electronic record systems. While not all electronic health records are able to communicate with each other at this time, the goal is for all of your health information to be in the same place, where everyone involved in your care—such as your primary care doctor, specialists, the pharmacy, hospitals, and urgent care centers—can see your complete history. In lieu of that, you can download your medical records from one doctor to take to a different doctor who doesn’t have your full medical history. “We see this as a collaboration tool,” says Myrie.
6. Maintenance Reminders
This feature can help the doctor and office staff keep track of when you are due for preventive services, such as an annual dilated eye exam and immunizations. Lizerbram says one doctor’s experience with maintenance reminders underscores their importance. “The reminder prompted the doctor to set the person up for a colonoscopy,” says Lizerbram. “It turned out the gastroenterologist found the patient had stage 1 cancer of the colon, which wouldn’t have been diagnosed until symptoms would have appeared much later.” As a result, that patient had surgery to remove a portion of the bowel and was cancer free without chemotherapy.
7. Medication Interaction
Electronic records can quickly scan the medications a person is taking and determine if there are any potential drug interactions or allergies that could be a problem. “It would be very hard for a physician to keep track of all those interactions,” says Corley, “where the computer can quickly do it.”
8. Big Data
“You can take even what’s called ‘big data’ out of the EHR,” says Lizerbram. For example, one study reported in Health IT Outcomes looked at the laboratory results of over 11 million people, and found that a million had diabetes but had not been diagnosed. “You could never get that type of data without an electronic health record supplying the data for some organization to research and review,” he says. Doctors could do this on a smaller scale in their own practices, too. They could tell the system to run a report for everyone with an A1C over a certain marker, which may help them identify patients with undiagnosed diabetes. There is also great potential for this data to look at a broader population of people than you’d find in a research study, which can provide better safety and efficacy information, says Corley.
9. Health Care Savings
The greater efficiency and quality of care that’s brought about by using electronic health records may translate to cost savings for the health care system as a whole, says Lizerbram. The information exchange that occurs with electronic records can help eliminate duplicate tests at various doctor’s offices, which can rein in costs. And maintenance reminders can catch disease early, so multiple surgeries and expensive medications may not be necessary down the road. But the savings aren’t limited to the health care system. Corley says that, by helping your doctor prescribe the medications your insurance covers, electronic records may save you money, too.