In the wake of $36 billion of government EHR incentive money, it’s been easy to focus solely on the “free” government MONEY and not all of the other benefits an EHR provides. Now that the government stimulus program has matured, it is worth taking a minute to look at some of the non-government benefits an EHR provides a practice.
In many cases you’ve likely even forgotten how much nicer something is in the EHR world as compared to the previous paper chart world.
I’m about to list off a number of EHR benefits. When you look through these benefits you’re going to tell yourself “These benefits are all so obvious!” In fact, that’s exactly the point of this post. Once you’ve adopted an EHR, you start taking these EHR benefits for granted. The benefits just become part of the status quo, and we forget to give the EHR credit for these efficiencies. That’s why it’s important to remember them.
Here are a few of the guaranteed EHR benefits:
- Legibility of Notes: Physicians' handwriting has been the topic of many jokes. While it’s funny to joke about, it’s not funny if you’re the physician receiving one of those illegible notes or the billing office trying to get paid based on some illegible chart note. The beauty of an EHR is that the notes are all typed in a font that can easily be read. The whole issue of physician handwriting goes out the window.
- Accessibility of Charts: Charts are more accessible in an EHR in two distinct ways. First, the concept of a lost chart basically disappears in the EHR world. When you want the chart, you search by the patient’s name or other identifier and instantly have access to the patient chart. No more searching through the chart room, the lab box, the nurses’ box, the box on the exam room door, etc. for the lost chart. Second, the chart can be accessed from anywhere in the world. Gone are the late night phone calls which require you to drive to the office to view the chart. An EHR can be accessed anywhere you have Internet.
- Multiple Users Accessing the Chart: How quickly we forget the fact that only one person could use the paper chart at a time. In fact, entire workflows were created around the fact that two people couldn’t work on the paper chart at the same time. In an EHR, the nurse, doctor, front desk, HIM, and billing staff can all work on the chart at the same time.
- Disaster Recovery: Many people are afraid of disaster situations with their EHR. While this is an important topic, an EHR can be so much better in a disaster than a paper chart. If your chart room goes up in flames, what could you do? Not much. Your charts were lost. In the EHR world, you can easily create multiple backups and store them in multiple secure locations including secure offsite storage. This takes some thoughtful planning to do it right, but EHR makes it possible to store multiple copies of your data which minimizes your risk of lost data. This is so much better than a paper chart in a disaster. With a cloud-based EHR this redundancy is often built in, and there is little or nothing you need to do.
- Drug to Drug and Allergy Interaction Checking: Yes, we’ve had Epocrates in our pocket for a long time. That was a huge improvement over those stacks of books on the shelf. However, EHR takes that one step further. Your EHR knows about your patients’ list of allergies and the drugs they’re taking. These extra pieces of information can provide a much deeper analysis of any drug you’re looking to prescribe. I don’t remember a prescription pad ever alerting you to an issue with an allergy when you were writing the script.
Obviously this is just a small list of the guaranteed benefits. We could create an even longer list of the possible, probable, and future benefits of an EHR as well. I’ll just cap it off with one simple example. How are you going to handle pharmacogenomic medicine on paper? It’s coming. The simple answer is that you’re not doing pharmacogenomics on paper. You’re going to need technology, and it will likely be connected to your EHR.
While I still don’t think we’ve realized all of the benefits that we could have (and many might say should have) from an EHR, we shouldn’t forget the many benefits an EHR has already provided. Far too often we evaluate our current EHR implementation against the perfect EHR as opposed to the alternative. EHR software has already provided a lot of benefits, but the most exciting thing is that we’re really just getting started. The future benefits will be even more impactful than the benefits we’re receiving today.