What are the Advantages of Electronic Medical Records?

Electronic medical records can usually be access from any computer on an office's network.
Medical records contain information about a patient's health and medical treatment history.
Electronic medical records save space.
Article Details
  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 18 August 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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There are both advantages and disadvantages to electronic medical records, although many argue that positive aspects outweigh the negatives. Even though the investment in this type of system is at first costly, most argue that over time, this cost will result in greater savings for both medical professionals and health insurance companies. It also takes a great deal of time to get paper records converted into electronic ones, but those records are much easier to track and search once this has been completed. Everyone who uses these records must be using compatible systems, however, or none of the information can be shared.

Keeping medical records in an electronic form can save a great deal of space. Instead of storing huge paper files on patients, all records are digital and stored on hard drives and/or in external data centers. This represents a small percentage of the space required to store physical records. In addition, although they do not make an office completely paper-free, electronic records do reduce the amount of paper needed by medical offices, hospitals, and insurance companies.

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Another advantage of electronic medical records is the ability for all members of a health care team to coordinate patient care. This helps avoid unnecessary repeat tests, prevents medicines that might interact badly from being prescribed, and allow anyone on the medical team to understand the approaches taken to treat a condition. A person with complex health issues may see several specialists, and can easily become confused by overlapping or contrary advice. When specialists and primary care doctors use the same system, then everyone on the team should be aware of all the other team members’ actions and recommendations.

Electronic records may save time as well. While records in the past could be faxed or emailed, in many cases, there was generally a wait time. When a medical professional has instant access to all of a patient’s information, including things like X-rays, lab tests, and information about prescriptions or allergies, he or she is empowered to act right away. This may be particularly helpful in emergency situations where a patient cannot answer questions about his or her medical history due to extreme illness or injury.

Many healthcare professionals have handwriting that may be difficult to read, and though this is a generalization, unclear writing can lead to mistakes. Typed information is less likely to create confusion. Electronic medical records do not rule out the occasional typo, however, which can also have serious consequences. Of course, someone also has to input all of a patient's old information into the system, which can take a significant amount of time and could add more errors to the records. A doctor may also need to take additional time out of his or her busy schedule to review this data.

In fact, one concern about the use of electronic medical records is that medical professionals may have a significant learning curve when these programs are first employed. A poor typist may actually take a long time to input new information. Doctors often have to be their own medical clerks especially during an office visit, and one who is distracted by confusing technology may not be as alert to a patient’s symptoms or needs.

There is no single source or system for electronic medical records in most places, so different hospitals and individual clinicians are not all using the same program. This erases the benefit of instant information for all on the medical team, since one program may not mesh with another.

Some patients express concern that digital records might be hacked and exploited by others. Since one of the first considerations of medical treatment is confidentiality, it may remain concerning just how many people might have access to all of a person's medical records. The misuse of private medical information could create problems for those who have conditions they wish to keep private.

Despite these concerns, many medical professionals and hospitals are now attempting to convert their records to electronic form. It remains unclear how long it will take for old files with long medical histories to be updated, however. It's also not clear when or if it will be possible for the different systems to communicate with one another.

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Discuss this Article

anon249293
Post 7

The most important issues with any system of health care today are money and health. Does any system that is put into place make people live longer, better and for how much money? I am a physician and I think electronic medical records in a private office fail on both counts.

First, do they make people live longer? I doubt it. How can a medical record make people live longer? In theory, if screening tests are done as recommended by numerous medical societies, there would be an overall population survival benefit. This is a big “possible.” Screening guidelines suggest women start getting mammograms by the age of 40. A recent task force came out and said there is no survival benefit until the age of 50. Prostate cancer screening has drawn similar conclusions in terms of lives saved. More testing leads to more false positives, i.e., the test is abnormal when it shouldn’t be. This leads to anxiety, further testing, therapy, doctor visits and a big waste of resources.

What about immunizations? Perhaps they will help get more people immunized because doctors and nurses will ask and then recommend the procedures. This is a question that will take 20 years to answer. In chronic diseases like asthma and hypertension, perhaps monitoring will help a small segment of the population who will take the time and effort to monitor their disease at home, get the information uploaded and share it with their physicians. Personally, I don’t think it will help much. Both in my office and in the general population, people are getting fatter and they don’t exercise.

How about cost savings? The government is giving incentive money to physicians to get the records set up. That money, in turn, goes to the company supplying the medical record services. This gives the big companies impetus to lobby the federal government to push this program forward. Companies like Cerner, IBM, and GE have a lot of money for marketing and PR. There is a lot of money up for grabs. Once the systems are established, there are maintenance and support fees that continue forever. Theoretically, an office can have a smaller office staff and save money in administration costs. I would say that it is bad because it puts somebody out of a job, but in my discussion with colleagues and in economic studies done, there have not been any staff reductions. So, doctors aren’t saving any money by putting in the systems.

Are doctors making money from them? Due to the way they are set up for office use, most doctors spend more time with EMR than they do with paper charting. It is not more time with patients. This leads to inefficiency. If a doctor in a five-person practice is on call and one of his partner’s patients calls up for a refill on their medication, he might know the correct one to order or he will have an improved familiarity with that patient. That is better service, which is always good. Otherwise, I see no incentive for doctors to have them in their offices outside of saving a medicare-imposed penalty for not having them.

Are the health systems saving any money? Again the theory is that if a doctor has all of the information on a patient, he doesn’t have to repeat tests. This is more theoretical than real. If you have blood work and then have chest pain and go to the hospital, most of your blood work is repeated. If you have a CT scan and get a biopsy for cancer and see your local doctor and then go for a second opinion at a university cancer center, they will likely repeat all of your tests. For “well” visits, the testing usually goes to your local lab or hospital. This information isn’t currently shared. Systems do not talk to each other. It’s going to take years for this to happen. There are a slew of privacy issues to deal with. If your doctor has your EMR, that is one set of security. If your doctor has an EMR that talks to other doctors, you need another level of security. If you want something national, then you have some real privacy issues.

But are health systems saving money? Well the insurance companies are already and they don’t need an EMR to do it. Expensive studies like PET scans, CT scans and MRI’s need prior authorization and they are often rejected. Some doctors don’t want to spend the extra time talking with a precertification physician from the insurance company to get that fifth MRI for chronic back pain.

What about the hospital systems? Possibly this is where EMR has a place. The security concerns are taken care of by established IT departments. They can put hard-stops in on order entry to prevent drug interactions and duplicate testing. The incentive in cost savings is in DRG payments. If the hospital gets paid a set amount for a diagnosis of congestive heart failure or emphysema, the least amount of testing they do, the more money they make. Also, they make information available to all of the doctors in their system. That increases the efficiency of the doctors working there. This hospital-based system translates into a cost benefit for doctors. Doctors can see more patients faster, not waiting for hospitals to send faxes of information over to them. They don’t have to repeat as many tests either. Has this translated into a shorter length of stay for hospital patients? This theory does not pan out.

Therefore, it is my conclusion that the EMR system in its current form is good for hospital systems and the doctors who are privileged there and is a waste of money in private offices. Any mandate set out by the government to make doctors use an EMR system is misguided and based on fantasy and magical thinking. In the case of EMR is here, it is a case of “the emperor has no clothes.” I just don’t buy the hype.

laurasharon
Post 6

As much as three quarters of hospital staff are usually burdened with some sort of billing-related work in a traditional billing system. Opting for electronic medical billing solutions (ones that come with free EMR plans) that fit easily into the healthcare business' workflow are key to freeing up staff resources.

MediWorx
Post 5

EHR software will continue to develop and evolve. Having comprehensive training and continual support will make a tremendous difference in implementation success. I think patients will see the full effect of EHR when their records are able to transfer easily and safely from one clinic to another.

anon171743
Post 4

EMR is effectively feasible, provided there is an excellent single electronic medical records source or a system with 100 percent reliable security. Otherwise, it is just a wasted technology.

anon106142
Post 3

hackers will love this one: open electronic medical records that they can get. if they can get in a bank and info there, they can get this too.

megaMouse
Post 2

The average Joe may have a problem with electronic medical records because he is concerned about his "privacy." However, doctors make a promise called the Hippocratic Oath to ensure that patients' privacy is kept safely confined to the walls of a hospital or health care facility. If a doctor released the information held in the electronic medical records to anyone not authorized ot have it, that doctor has broken his/her Hippocratic Oath and will likely come under investigation by the medical review board, likely resulting in termination.

It's important to note that electronic medical records do not make it any easier to release personal information to the public. If a doctor does this with the electronic system, he or she certainly would've also neglected the privacy of the patient without the database at his/her disposal. This breach of privacy, regardless of medium, is an issues of ethics and has nothing to do with technological advances in medical record keeping.

BearingNorth
Post 1

My husband is a doctor and he loves everything about electronic medical records. Now, with electronic medical records he does not have to worry about chasing down and contacting a patient's former health care providers in order to gain access to previous conditions the patient has had.

Because we live in a society where the average person does not know much about his or her own body, it's important for doctors to have access to a database full of each and every symptom, condition, ailment that the patient has ever had. This system helps determine what is wrong with the patient much faster than ever before. Because of electronic medical records, doctors are able to provide optimal care for each patient without wasting any time.

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