Case for Switching to Electronic Health Records from Paper-Based Records (part 1)

Adoption of electronic health records (EHRs) is critical in improving the quality, enhancing efficiency and reducing cost of healthcare (Chaudhry et al., 2006). EHRs facilitate the process through which patients and providers of health care collect and retrieve information about patients’ health and assess widespread medical knowledge while being at the point of care (Busis, 2010). In facilities where EHRs are absent, time-consuming paper-based documentation steps and manual coordination of tasks slow down the response of providers to patients’ conditions (Thompson & Brailer, 2004). EHRs thus offer an opportunity to improve healthcare with regard to continuity, communication, coordination and accountability, but their adoption is limited by such concerns as confidentiality and security of information.
Electronic health records have the potential for realizing continuity of care. Their importance is especially buttressed by the fact that the traditional concept of continuity of care where a patient-practitioner relationship spanned beyond specific illness episodes (Haggerty et al. 2003) may not be realized in modern day. This is because, in modern day, patients seek treatment from different practitioners and providers thus limiting the practitioner’s knowledge of a patient’s history. With electronic records, however, patient health information (e.g. medication history, radiographs, and laboratory results) is availed in a mode accessible to the practitioner, thus helping one to track the patient’s information relevant to the treatment of current episode (Thompson & Brailer, 2004). In this way, electronic health records helps practitioners to offer treatment that is informed on the client’s medical history, thus enhancing the treatment outcomes
EHRs also enhance communication. This firstly derives from the standards that ensure such records are maintained in formats that can be accessed using basic platforms such as web browsers (Busis, 2010). Through such capabilities, practitioners treating a client can access the client’s prior treatment information without delays associated with paper documentation. This for instance prevents a patient from taking a test that has already been ordered by a different practitioner, since such is reflected in ones record. Such cases also apply to healthcare team members (e.g. laboratory and physicians), where EHRs enhance the sharing of client’s information. In cases where patient condition hinders verbal communication and in emergencies, EHRs help the medical team to acquire the patient’s medical history in a timely manner, thus averting delays that could affect the treatment outcomes. EHRs also eliminate handwriting errors (Thompson & Brailer, 2004), thus maintain the integrity of information relayed. Further, by offering alerts about treatment procedures and guidelines, electronic systems help practitioners to adhere to guideline-based care, thus reduce the chance of medication errors. Effectiveness of EHRs in enhancing communication however depends on aspects such as the importance the transmitter and recipient place on relayed information with regard to safety and quality and the ease of use of communication interface (Effken & Carrington, 2011). Go to part 2 here.

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