How Moving to and Interconnecting EHRs Will Pay Dividends to Patients & Doctors

As Kimberly Leonard points out in her U.S. News & World Report article (“Doctors Say Electronic Records Waste Time,” Sept. 8, 2014), doctors are frustrated with the time it takes to use electronic health records. This is only natural. Moving from paper to digital communication is a different way of communicating and takes time to become proficient. If we think about electronic health records as a way for doctors to communicate more effectively rather than merely as a way to digitize a paper chart, then their value is greatly enhanced. Such records are just the first step in unleashing the power of health information technology.

Younger physicians take it for granted that electronic health records are part of the healthcare workflow. In fact, the first thing a medical resident asks me is, “What EHR do you use?” It’s not surprising, therefore, that trainees “lose” on average 18 minutes by using an electronic health record while attending physicians “lose” 48 minutes, according to the study by Dr. Clement McDonald cited in the article. Younger physicians used to communicating electronically see electronic health records as a necessary tool. It allows doctors to communicate their thoughts in ways that the whole medical team can consistently understand, and it is one repository for evaluating laboratory results, radiology reports, and other pertinent information without always having to obtain information by phone or fax.

However, electronic health records, as stand-alone systems, are not where efficiencies in health care will be derived. The real power of these records lies in their ability to be interconnected, so that a doctor has access to a patient’s medical information no matter where he or she is, and whenever he or she may need it. This access leads to faster decisions, and in an emergency, these minutes saved can be a matter of life or death. That’s why it is important for different electronic systems to communicate with each other through Health Information Exchange.

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(Source: U.S. News & World Report)