Although many health care settings continue to utilize traditional methods of maintaining patient records, electronic medical records (EMRs) are being used in various health care settings, such as physician offices and hospitals.
An EMR is a secured electronic file that contains a patient's medical history, including physician notes, medication history, laboratory results, and billing information, as well as other pertinent patient information. The popularity of EMR systems is slowly increasing in hospitals and physician offices.
According to a report released in March 2005 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fewer than one third of the nation's hospital emergency and outpatient departments utilize EMRs and even fewer physicians' offices as well.1 The CDC report indicated that ~31% of hospital emergency departments, 29% of outpatient departments, and ~17% of doctors' offices utilize EMRs to maintain patient care records.1 Various factors such as high costs, concerns about security and privacy, and lack of standardization have been identified as possible barriers to utilizing EMRs.2
In 2003, the RAND Health Information Technology (HIT) Project Team initiated a study with the following objectives2:
The RAND study reported that EMRs could save money by reducing redundant care, speeding patient treatment, improving safety, and keeping patients healthier.3
In 2004, President George W. Bush outlined a plan to have EMRs within 10 years for the majority of individuals in the United States, and he established the position of national coordinator for health information technology to implement this goal.4 The implementation of EMRs may offer opportunities to improve the quality of health care to patients, reduce health care costs, and reduce or prevent medical errors. Currently, the US Department of Veterans Affairs deploys the largest standardized computerized health care network in the country.5
The recent devastation on the Gulf Coast following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita resulted in the loss and/or damage of many patient medical records and may have prompted many to see the need for EMRs. Consequently, the www.KatrinaHealth.org Web site was developed. It is a secure, on-line service giving authorized health care providers, such as doctors and pharmacists, access to medication and dosage information for evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. The site also enables authorized physicians and pharmacies to renew critical medications, coordinate care, and avoid potential medication errors when renewing or prescribing new medications.6
Benefits of EMRs
The development of EMRs was motivated, in part, by the desire of health care professionals to overcome the limitations of paper records.5 Many believe that the implementation of electronic patient medical records increases efficiency in the management of clinical information. EMRs in physicians' offices or hospital settings can serve many useful functions, including providing alerts for various treatment regimens, obtaining laboratory results, and generating prescriptions and having them sent directly to the pharmacy. Some other reported benefits of utilizing EMRs are as follows:
Both paper records and EMRs have advantages and disadvantages. The use of EMRs, however, provides health care professionals with a greater opportunity to increase efficiency and focus on providing a greater quality of care for the patient population because of the easy accessibility to pertinent patient information at any given time.
The growth of technology has provided the health care industry with many advances for treating patients,with promising results. It is the responsibility of health care professionals to ensure that all patients receive quality care.The implementation of EMRs may be just the tool that the health care profession can utilize to make that job easier.
For more information, visit the Web site of the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology at www.os.dhhs.gov/healthit.
Ms. Terrie is a clinical pharmacy writer based in Haymarket,Va.
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