Do you pay your bills online, send e-cards for birthdays, and opt for news websites over a daily paper? In this increasingly paper-free era, medical records have lagged behind, but that's changing.
You might already have encountered your family's electronic medical records (EMRs) — also called electronic health records, or EHRs — at checkups or seen your child's health records consolidated electronically between your pediatrician's office and a specialist's.
If not, expect to soon. Implementing EMR systems is costly, so many doctors and hospitals were previously reluctant to use them. But the recent health care reform legislation mandates standardized billing in which insurers must implement rules for the secure, confidential electronic exchange of health information.
Under the umbrella term "meaningful use" of EMRs, the government has established rules and financial incentives (billions of dollars in federal funds) to spur adoption of electronic records, which are expected to reduce paperwork and administrative burdens, cut costs, reduce medical errors, and improve the quality of care for patients.
Indeed, EMRs will be a critical part of quality of care standards at hospitals, who must publicly report on their care — and patients' perception of that care — starting with results relating to surgical care, health-care associated infections, and others.
What This Means to You
Having complete health information stored in one place and kept current can enhance doctor-patient communications. Your pediatrician, for instance, can instantly know the details of care provided by the specialist who also sees your child.
EHRs will change health care delivery in a number of ways:
health care information will be available when needed and not kept in one office
making a patient's health care information available to all care providers will reduce duplication of medical testing
when parents and patients are better informed, they can make better health care decisions
the safety and privacy of patients' personal health information will be ensured
electronically checking for drug-drug interactions and drug allergies will make prescriptions safer
giving an electronic copy of a child's hospital discharge instructions will ensure that parents thoroughly understand the post-hospitalization care plan and can review it at their convenience
Experts hope that EMRs will improve health care thanks to functionality that isn't possible with paper records. And having consolidated, accessible health information on both sides of the exam table can eliminate administrative steps that could distract from care.