Friday, October 16, 2009

The Benefits and Challenges of Electronic Medical Records

October is “Update Your Medical Records Month,” so we want to take this opportunity to remind you to bring your records up to date, if you haven’t already. It also seemed like an appropriate time to write about electronic health records, a current topic of discussion in the health community.

Electronic health records are one measure that many—and the Obama administration in particular—support as a means of improving patient health care. Although there are many significant benefits to electronic systems, including better access to information and the ability to tailor care, there are also some major hurdles to the implementation of such a system including the initial cost. In 2008, however, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that only 17% of doctors and 10% of hospitals were using computerized health records (the rest were using a paper based system).

Computerized health records offer a number of benefits to health practices. They can help improve patient care by assisting doctors in finding relevant information more quickly and prescribing the right treatments. “Fully functional” records can provide reminders of care guidelines, helping doctors to avoid problems such as prescribing medications that a patient is allergic to or administering tests for information that has already been acquired through similar tests (which the doctor may otherwise overlook).

In turn, this will cut costs by improving efficiency and eliminating unnecessary procedures. Making depersonalized records available will allow doctors and researchers to look at larger numbers of patients and learn what type of care is most effective for an individual.

Doctors have identified one major challenge to implementing electronic systems: cost. For small practices with only one to three doctors—the type of practice where almost half our country’s doctors practice—the average cost of implementation is $40,000-$50,000. Dissatisfaction with current system options is another barrier: according to the 2008 study 54% of those who had not adopted computerized records said that a major reason was that the existing options did not meet their needs.

The Obama administration has taken strides to reduce the cost by offering $19 billion in incentives to doctors, hospitals, and regional health information networks. Payments can be up to $44,000 per physician for those that demonstrate “meaningful use” of “certified” electronic health records, which means they must demonstrate quality reporting and be able to share information with clinics, hospitals, and government (although the specifics need to be determined). There is also a disincentive to not adopting: if health providers have not switched over by 2015, they may experience a penalty when seeing Medicare or Medicaid patients.

Additionally, providers of electronic records systems are partnering with health providers to make implementation easier.

Patient privacy is the other major concern that needs to be addressed. It will rely on the depersonalization of records, and strong cyber security technology, a necessity for implementation.

Of the physicians, large practices, and hospitals that have already implemented electronic systems, the reviews are overwhelmingly positive: 82 percent said they improved the quality of clinical decisions, 86 percent said they helped in avoiding medication errors and 85 percent said they improved the delivery of preventative care. With help from the government and private industry, the number of health professionals using computerized records is bound to increase in the next few years.

Have you ever used electronic health records? Do you know any doctors who have? How has this affected patient care? Leave a comment and let us know!

And don’t forget to update your own medical records!

Image credit: Ablsa


  1. Electronic Medical Record is the effective capture, dissemination, and analysis of medical and health related information for a single patient. All participants in the health care delivery system have a stake in efficient information flows.

  2. I am very pleased that the electronic medical record is getting so popular. There is a great one I've been using at that has been hugely convenient for me to use. I recommend that anyone interested try the free demo out and see for yourselves.

  3. The government effort to centralize health records offers a lot of benefits for patients and medical practitioners alike. For the most part, assessments are easier done since electronic medical records reflect the medical history of a certain individual. Updating that repertoire of information is essential since doctors would be relying on such database before prescribing a specific medicine or treatment.

    I hope everyone would participate and update and update their information. That way, they can reap the optimal benefits that can be derived from this policy