Electronic health records: they're working

Electronic health records: they're working

By Kelcie Chambers on July 5th, 2012

Last winter, public health officials in Michigan noticed something odd when scanning reports from several regional clinical laboratories—a cluster of 11 serious E. Coli cases that sent six patients to the hospital. The discovery, which was made with the help of electronic health record (EHR), ultimately led officials to the culprit of the outbreak—clover sprouts at a local sandwich chain.

According to this article from the New York Times, when medical records were maintained on paper, it could take weeks to trace an infection to its source. Thanks to the speed and data warehousing capabilities of the EHR, the entire investigation in Michigan took only a week to complete – a huge victory for health officials and a testament to the success of EHRs.

The Times notes that “more than one-third of the nation’s 5,000 acute care hospitals now use EHRs, and the share of primary care doctors using them has doubled to 40 percent in the last two years.” The proliferation of EHRs has helped many facilities keep better records, streamline operations and prevent medical errors. The technology has largely accomplished what the healthcare industry intended it to do – make healthcare easier. The following cases not only prove that EHRs are working (sometimes in ways we don’t expect), but they also help us all remember that the technology that we’re brainstorming about today has the potential to change people’s lives tomorrow.

Life-saving diagnoses
EHRs are saving lives. A recent article from Bloomberg Businessweek tells the story of an elderly man brought to the hospital for what doctors suspected was an epileptic seizure. A quick examination of the man’s EHR, however, revealed that the twitching episodes he experienced diminished quickly, ruling out epilepsy. After a cardiac examination in the emergency room, the man was diagnosed with a heart condition and within hours was outfitted with a pacemaker. If his medical history had not been available in the EHR, the man might have died by being directed to the neurology clinic rather than the emergency room.

Disease prevention
In addition to preventing foodborne illnesses, EHRs are helping physicians across the country provide preventative care. In fact, according to Healthcare IT News, primary care practices with EHRs identified patients who needed preventative or follow-up care approximately 30 times more quickly than practices using paper-based processes.
For example, the New York Times points out that EHRs are being used in Massachusetts to prevent hepatitis infections. Medical labs in the state have been submitting reports to the state health department to identify new hepatitis B cases. Once identified the department and originating provider check to see if the patient has recently given birth; if so, the provider is able to promptly follow up with the patient to ensure the newborn is vaccinated and is safeguarded from a lifelong infection.

Identifying candidates for clinical trials
Some health systems, including Penn Medicine, have had greater success in recruiting patients for clinical trials by finding candidates through EHRs. According to an article from Information Week, a recent infertility clinical trial in the system’s ob-gyn department that utilized EHRs as a recruitment tool resulted in an 87 percent increase in the number of physician-referred patients for trials as compared with the prior four-month period.

Avoiding litigation
Moreover, EHRs are helping physicians keep more accurate records, which reduces their risk of litigation, a study has found. According to a recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, EHR use was tied to an 84 percent decrease in the chance of a physician getting sued for medical malpractice.

And finally, EHRs were able to keep one Washington-based chiropractor working during a blizzard. The chiropractor used information in his EHR, which he was able to access at home during a snowstorm, to keep in touch with patients regarding scheduling and follow ups.

These stories above, along with the many others that go unreported, are at the heart of why the healthcare IT industry exists—to improve people’s lives. As EHR use continues to increase, we can expect to see many more anecdotal results from the technology that paint a clear need for its use. And as healthcare technology continues to innovate, so too, will patient care.
Have you had a similar positive experience with EHRs? Leave us a comment and tell us about it.