The long-awaited promise of electronic health records in the Unites States is finally becoming reality. Most healthcare organizations, if they haven’t yet adopted EHR’s, are well on their way.
The benefits of EHR’s are numerous and profound. Some benefits will be realized almost immediately – streamlining patient visits, reductions in medical errors and better processing of insurance claims, to name just a few.
Other benefits will soon follow. The vast amount of healthcare data generated by EHR’s will be used by clinicians to better diagnose conditions and determine the most effective treatments. This data will also help researchers to discover new cures and treatments. Patients will find a wealth of new medical information on the internet.
One drawback is that the first wave of EHR implementations will result in multiple health records existing for each patient, since healthcare organizations will be maintaining EHR’s only for patient visits within their purview. At this time, there is no clear path for merging multiple EHR’s into a single record for each patient. However, there is little doubt that once patients become accustomed to having access to their own EHR’s, they will have the expectation of consolidating their EHR’s into a single Personal Health Record. Doctors and other clinicians will also want to access consolidated EHR’s, instead of scanning between several records brought in from other organizations at the patient’s request.
EHR’s are signed legal documents; therefore, only authorized personnel – usually physicians – will be able to create or modify them. Merging separate EHR’s presents legal issues, in addition to technical ones. Patients, unless they are clinicians themselves, will have neither the medical expertise nor legal authority needed to effectively consolidate their medical records. It logically follows that patients will look to their healthcare providers for help.
Most of the Affordable Care Act takes effect in 2014, and going by the accelerated pace of consumer technological expectations (smart mobile devices barely existed until a few years ago), meeting the demand for consolidated EHR’s should be an immediate priority for all healthcare organizations.