There are few industries more reliant on technology than healthcare. At the same time, few industries require the same amount of regulation and security, as improper care or the misuse of patient information could have potentially life-threatening consequences, not to mention a high risk of malpractice and fraud. This paradox has put providers in a bit of a pickle, especially when it comes to the electronic health record (EHR). EHRs are some of the most pervasive digital healthcare tools out there, but consumers and caregivers alike are still somewhat wary of them.
Before weighing the pros and cons of EHRs, you should understand exactly what an EHR is and what it does. Essentially, each one acts as a longitudinal record of a patient’s medical history, including medications, laboratory data, immunizations, vital signs and self-reported health data. This brings a myriad of benefits plus several challenges associated with administering care and maintaining patient confidentiality. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of this specific solution to see whether or not it’s right for you and your practice.
Pros: Accessible, Affordable and Collaborative
According to a paper published in Risk Management and Healthcare Policy, EHRs are needed because they solve problems associated with the storage and record-keeping of traditional health records. This is at the crux of all of the EHR’s benefits: Storing information online lessens the number of roadblocks, human errors and costs of storing physical data.
- They Improve Access—When medical records are stored digitally, they can be accessed anywhere you have an internet connection. This gives patients unbridled access to their own records, which can be extremely beneficial when they’re in a situation where they need to relay the correct medical information to another healthcare professional. They also allow quick access for caregivers, especially when they’re away from the office or hospital.
- They Lower Costs—There are many ways that EHRs can lower the cost of care for patients and providers. Their inherently collaborative nature is one way. If providers are able to share information, they may be able to eliminate redundant tests that the patient has already undergone, thereby saving money for both parties. They also curb care costs by reducing the time physicians spend on certain tasks, like calling patients and faxing information.
- They Allow Caregivers to Collaborate—Historically, providers relied on faxing or mailing one another important health data, which was slow and vulnerable to breaches. Now, all of the providers along the care continuum—physicians, surgeons, specialists, physical therapists, pharmacists and more—can share patient information in seconds. This also saves new providers time and money by using data that another caregiver has already collected.
- They Prevent Error—We don’t want to put too much clout in that old stereotype about doctors and chicken scratch, but in the event that a provider just so happens to have poor handwriting, it has no bearing on patient care so long as the provider is using digital health records. Eliminating handwritten notes can actually lead to better, safer care. In fact, it was found in one study that computerized entry by a physician prevented 55 percent of serious medical errors.
Cons: Closing the Security and Trust Gaps
Naturally, anything that promises greater access and collaboration is likely to be inherently flawed in the security department. The primary downfall of any electronic healthcare solution is that digitization means more opportunity for vulnerability. As previously mentioned, paper records that are faxed or mailed aren’t the most secure solution, but digitally stored records can be breached by a much larger and more tech-savvy audience, which means they need to double-down on security controls.
- They May Be Less Secure—Digital health records may be more exposed to theft or misplacement than traditional records, as no industry is totally immune from cyber-attacks. Less security means less patient-provider trust—patients are less likely to share information with their doctors if they believe that their information isn’t private—and could bring more legal liability to the practice. To combat this, many EHR developers are strengthening record security with blockchain, encryption, accepting cryptocurrencies and other high-level security technologies.
- They’re Costly Up-Front—The stringent regulations, security issues and general patient safety concerns make EHR software much costlier to develop than other kinds of software. What’s more, it must be able to house a huge amount of data and include valuable tools to facilitate patient-doctor communication, information sharing, patient monitoring and more. Compared to paper records, EHRs require significantly more financial resources. But over time, they can help save you money and grow your practice with better patient care.
- They Require Training—Any medical professional will tell you that adopting a new software often translates into more work and less efficiency during the transition period. Like all technology, EHR software must be learned, which can suck up valuable time for the entire practice or team. With that being said, once the transition is complete, healthcare systems typically find that EHR solutions help make their work more efficient and productive in the long-term because they eliminate faxing, correcting handwriting issues and other tasks.
Should You Upgrade to EHRs?
If you’re still weighing whether or not to upgrade your system to electronic records, consider the fact that patients and consumers are starting to expect them and may even trust them more than handwritten records. That facet alone should help tip the scales into the “yes” department, since we all know that providing a good patient experience can make or break a modern practice.
Another thing to consider is that technology is the fastest industry to iterate, so developers are constantly trying to find brand-new ways to make EHRs safer and more secure. As long as you partner with a good EHR company that prioritizes security, safety and affordability, you can bet that joining the digital healthcare revolution will be well worth your investment.