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Grappling With The Challenges Of Electronic Health Records

One of the most important developments affecting professionals in the healthcare industry is the growing use of electronic health records (EHRs). Gary C. David, associate professor of sociology at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts recently discussed the impact they will have on the industry.

How widespread is the use of EHRs?
Almost every single large-scale healthcare organization has an EHR system. The problem is getting them to small hospitals and clinics. A lot of places might not be able to afford the hardware and software. But there is a federal mandate for everyone to have them, and reimbursement from Medicaid and Medicare will be based on certain benchmarks of meaningful use of EHR systems. The federal government is offering financial incentives to implement them.

How much impact will EHR systems have on the healthcare industry?
They will have a big impact on workflow. Documentation is essential to every aspect of healthcare. There’s a saying, “If it isn’t written down, it didn’t happen.” That’s primarily true for reimbursement or auditing or billing. Everything needs to be fully documented. Everyone in the healthcare industry is going to learn how to use EHRs and understand what the information means.

What are the challenges of adopting EHR systems?
It’s changing the way doctors are producing medical records. My ophthalmologist said his EHR system does not support what he does very well. The way one specialty records medical information is different from the way another specialty does it. So doctors have to find ways to fit what they would normally do with a new EHR system they are being required to use.

A lot of discussion about EHRs revolves around medical ID theft and privacy issues.
Identity theft, privacy and security are at the top of the priority list when people talk about EHR systems. Federal law mandates strict privacy security compliance rules and a wider range of accountability. But that doesn’t hold in other countries, and the healthcare industry uses a lot of foreign contractors. Also, when a doctor takes work home, are the records on a computer hard drive? If the goal is to have me control my medical records, does that mean I’m toting them around with me? How secure are they? I’m more concerned about medical data being right. When you have doctors changing the way they record information, what impact will that have on accuracy of records? When converting paper records to EHRs, somebody is doing the transcribing. We need zero mistakes with records. They can’t be 98 percent accurate.

Key Points

  • Small hospitals and clinics are struggling to implement EHR systems
  • Every healthcare professional will have to adapt to the systems
  • A number of identity and privacy security issues are being addressed

David Thun is an Associate Editor at the National Notary Association.


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