In the third article of a multipart series on health literacy and innovation in health care, developed through the online master of public health at the George Washington University, I explain EMRs–electronic medical records– and their potential to help improve the patient experience for older adults. You can find the first article, a primer on health technology, here and the second on mHealth (mobile health), here.
An electronic medical record (EMR) refers to an electronically stored record of health-related information about a person. Many people believe that these electronic records can promote better care and patient safety, while reducing health care costs. But, many also have concerns about privacy issues.
This EMR information, which includes standard medical and clinical data, can be created, managed, and used by health care providers and their staff within a single health care practice. It is typically used to diagnose and treat patients. And, it is not easily shared with other doctors.
EMRs should not be confused with electronic health records (EHRs). EHRs feature a more comprehensive patient history that includes data collected beyond a single doctor or other health care provider’s office. EHRs tend to be shareable among different health care providers. About eighty percent of doctors use EHRs today.
EMRs provide a wealth of benefits compared to traditional paper records. In addition to eliminating the problem of lost or misplaced files, EMRs allow health care providers to efficiently:
- Schedule and manage patient appointments
- Access test results
- Monitor blood pressure readings, vaccinations, and other health parameters
- Identify patients who are due for screenings and/or preventive care visits
- Track cumulative patient data over time
- Reduce medical errors
Charting activities are expedited by EMRs as well, since physicians and mid-level providers can enter information during a patient encounter instead of hours later. This allows for the scheduling of more patients and improves accuracy of information.
Individuals like their ability to communicate with their doctors via text and email. It can reduce the need to actually visit the doctor’s office. And, they can get new prescriptions and receive medical test results online.
Despite the potential of EMRs to reduce medical errors, improve patient safety, and enhance overall quality of care, adoption in the United States has been slow. Some of the barriers to adoption include high capital cost, concerns about obsolescence, lack of skilled resources for implementation and support, and privacy and security concerns. Local and national initiatives to encourage EMR adoption have shown some promise to date.
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