The Quest for Standardized Electronic Health Records

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Finger pointing at medical symbolAn electronic health record (EHR) is a systematic collection of electronic health information about an individual patient or population. The record is in digital format that is capable of being shared across different health care settings. The records may contain data like demographics, medical history, medications and allergies, laboratory test results, radiology images, and personal information like age, weight and billing information. There has been much recent progress in the quest for standardized EHRs, with both pros and cons as health care providers and patients look to the future of medical care.

The Pros

The goal of standardized EHRs is to maintain up-to-date data about patients and their medical history in a single file, eliminating the need to track down previous medical records. This can help improve doctors’ abilities to diagnose patients correctly as well as speed up care and reduce time-consuming, costly, and redundant testing. With 12 million American misdiagnosed each year, having standardized electronic health records can also help whole populations by allowing patients and doctors access to data on every disease and how other patients were successfully treated.

The Cons

Software vendors charge $40,000 to install an electronic records system and then $10,000 to $15,000 for annual maintenance. Beyond cost, EHRs arguably distract from patient time, don’t encourage doctors to speak to one another, often need total reorganization of practices, and can be misused or hacked to invade privacy and threaten security of both patients and doctors. Many doctors also argue that data containing demographic, laboratory, and other patient information is “just the facts” and that doctors still need the patient’s story to best treat them.

EHR Progress

As new models of health information technology develop, and more federal support is given to their promotion, health care could be greatly reformed in the not-so-distant future by standardized EHRs. A fully functioning system could mean eliminating the need to fill out health care forms at every new practice, instant communication between specialists, and more efficient medical facilities that could focus on prevention of health problems and maintenance of chronic conditions, rather than scrambling for information during emergency situations. Research is still being done towards the development of EHRs.

The Future

In 2004, the Bush Administration issued an executive order calling for EHRs for all Americans within ten years. The 2009 economic stimulus plan promised $27 billion for health IT that included payments of $44,000 to $64,000 over five years to doctors if they used EHRs. Ten years and billions of dollars later, only a small portion of doctors use EHRs largely based on the cons they see in using the records. On the contrast, patients like Joe Kanter, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer and then learned of the lack of electronic medical data to show what worked best for patients like him, felt the need to advocate for the standardization of EHRs. While the government has given money to funding standardization of EHRs, support may also be needed from individuals and private enterprises.

The quest for standardized electronic health records is a hot topic in the changing face of the health industry that requires more research and improvements. Learn more about degree programs in health information management.

Photo via Flickr by nffcnnr