Better Information Means Safer Health Care
Health information technology (health IT) can play an important role in increasing patient safety by virtue of the information contained in the electronic health record (EHR) and the features (error-checking, notifications, etc.) systems use to ensure high quality care. As just one example, a Congressional Budget Office study estimated that EHRs could reduce prescribing errors by up to 95 percent. Specifically, EHRs can enhance patient safety and provide safer health care through:
- Comprehensiveness: EHRs can offer a more complete picture of your health to your doctors than paper records. This information can give doctors the information they need to evaluate your current condition in the context of your health history and other treatments you may be receiving.
- Speed: In a crisis, EHRs can give those providing your care instant access to information about your medical history, allergies, and prescriptions they can use to make appropriate decisions sooner, instead of waiting for information from test results.
- Flagging potential conflicts: Many EHRs incorporate warning systems to inform doctors when they order a medication that could interact with something you already take. This information can prompt doctors to explore alternatives before a problem occurs.
- Verifying medications and dosages: Many e-prescribing systems incorporate a verification system that checks the barcode on a medication against the drug name and dosage information on the original prescription, helping pharmacists avoid dispensing the wrong medication.
- Reducing the need to repeat risky tests and procedures: Even the safest medical tests and procedures carry risk. Having a comprehensive EHR can reduce the risk of repeating them unnecessarily, leading to safer health care.
Maintaining Realistic Expectations
Any health record — paper-based or electronic — is only as good as the information it contains and how that information is used. On their own, EHRs will not eliminate all medical errors and cannot ensure that patients always get the most effective treatment. Computerized systems, in health care as in any other area, are not perfect. For example, the EHR used by one group of doctors or hospitals may not communicate easily with the system used by another provider group. The Federal government is trying to solve this problem with financial incentives that encourage the development of systems that work together (also called “interoperability”).
For providers, changing from paper-based to electronic systems represents an enormous undertaking. In some ways, it’s like switching from an old-fashioned typewriter to a word processor. Not surprisingly, the complexity of the transition can itself create problems for some patients. Regardless of how your records are stored today and will be stored tomorrow, partnering with your physician and remaining engaged in every aspect of your health and health care are important to your health.
Better Information Means Better Health Care
Traditionally, your primary care physician has been expected to act as the central hub for all your medical records, including laboratory results, tests, and records sent from other doctors. But sometimes — when you change doctors, when providers have out-of-date information, or simply when procedures aren’t followed correctly — this system can break down. Health information technology (health IT) offers a better way of establishing that hub.
Consider for a moment all the different types of information that make up your medical record and all the different places that information can come from:
- Medical history, including diagnoses, medications, and allergies, from current and past doctors, emergency facilities, and school clinics
- Immunization history, from current and past doctors, school clinics, workplace clinics, health departments, pharmacies, and emergency facilities
- Laboratory results from physician office labs, hospital labs, and independent labs
- Medical imaging, from a doctor’s office, radiology offices, hospital radiology departments, and independent imaging centers
A Single Source
The promise of electronic health records (EHRs) and personal health records (PHRs) is a comprehensive record that includes all of this information: a record that is up to date, complete, accurate, and in the hands of your doctor or you and your family when it’s needed. That makes all of your providers more knowledgeable about you and better able to work with you to make more informed decisions about your health.
The main goal of health IT is to improve the quality of your care. For instance, a study of Texas hospitals found that those with more advanced health IT showed fewer deaths and fewer problems with care (also called complications) among their patients compared with patients at hospitals with less advanced health IT.
EHRs can enhance routine medical care by reminding your doctor about the timing of appropriate preventive services for your general well-being or about specific issues related to managing chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and asthma. For example, a study by Better Health Greater Cleveland [PDF - 310 KB] found that at facilities using EHRs, 51 percent of patients with diabetes received all the recommended care for their condition, compared with 7% at facilities using paper-only records.
Much like the EHR, the PHR can also be an electronic storage “hub” for all your most important health information. It’s possible for you to create your own PHR using consumer-friendly software and online services and use it to improve your own health. Your PHR is all about you; you decide whether to create one in the first place, and if so, what to put in it.