Although many health care settingscontinue to utilize traditionalmethods of maintainingpatient records, electronic medicalrecords (EMRs) are being used in varioushealth care settings, such as physicianoffices and hospitals.
An EMR is a secured electronic filethat contains a patient's medical history,including physician notes, medicationhistory, laboratory results, and billinginformation, as well as other pertinentpatient information. The popularity ofEMR systems is slowly increasing in hospitalsand physician offices.
According to a report released in March2005 by the Centers for Disease Controland Prevention (CDC), fewer than onethird of the nation's hospital emergencyand outpatient departments utilize EMRsand even fewer physicians' offices aswell.1 The CDC report indicated that ~31%of hospital emergency departments, 29%of outpatient departments, and ~17% ofdoctors' offices utilize EMRs to maintainpatient care records.1 Various factors suchas high costs, concerns about security andprivacy, and lack of standardization havebeen identified as possible barriers to utilizingEMRs.2
In 2003, the RAND Health InformationTechnology (HIT) Project Teaminitiated a study with the followingobjectives2:
The RAND study reported that EMRs couldsave money by reducing redundant care,speeding patient treatment, improvingsafety, and keeping patients healthier.3
In 2004, President George W. Bush outlineda plan to have EMRs within 10 yearsfor the majority of individuals in theUnited States, and he established theposition of national coordinator for healthinformation technology to implement thisgoal.4 The implementation of EMRs mayoffer opportunities to improve the qualityof health care to patients, reduce healthcare costs, and reduce or prevent medicalerrors. Currently, the US Departmentof Veterans Affairs deploys the largeststandardized computerized health carenetwork in the country.5
The recent devastation on the GulfCoast following Hurricanes Katrina andRita resulted in the loss and/or damageof many patient medical records andmay have prompted many to see theneed for EMRs. Consequently, thewww.KatrinaHealth.org Web site wasdeveloped. It is a secure, on-line servicegiving authorized health care providers,such as doctors and pharmacists, accessto medication and dosage informationfor evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. Thesite also enables authorized physiciansand pharmacies to renew critical medications,coordinate care, and avoidpotential medication errors when renewingor prescribing new medications.6
Benefits of EMRs
The development of EMRs was motivated,in part, by the desire of health careprofessionals to overcome the limitationsof paper records.5 Many believe that theimplementation of electronic patientmedical records increases efficiency inthe management of clinical information.EMRs in physicians' offices or hospital settingscan serve many useful functions,including providing alerts for various treatmentregimens, obtaining laboratory results,and generating prescriptions andhaving them sent directly to the pharmacy.Some other reported benefits of utilizingEMRs are as follows:
Both paper records and EMRs haveadvantages and disadvantages. The use ofEMRs, however, provides health care professionalswith a greater opportunity toincrease efficiency and focus on providinga greater quality of care for the patientpopulation because of the easy accessibilityto pertinent patient information at anygiven time.
The growth of technology has providedthe health care industry with manyadvances for treating patients,with promisingresults. It is the responsibility ofhealth care professionals to ensure thatall patients receive quality care.The implementationof EMRs may be just the toolthat the health care profession can utilizeto make that job easier.
For more information, visit the Web siteof the Department of Health and HumanServices' Office of the National Coordinatorfor Health Information Technologyat www.os.dhhs.gov/healthit.
Ms. Terrie is a clinical pharmacy writerbased in Haymarket,Va.
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