We marvel at the amazing advances in medicine—all the results of great technological breakthroughs. One disruption that is claiming far less press is the continuing march of EHR (Electronic Health Records) development. While this has been a bit slow in evolving, health IT trends in 2017 promise to bring some major movement along with some accompanying issues.
What Are the Goals of EHR/EMR Tech?
No one denies that databases of information are far more efficient than paper, so long as they are secure and backed up. And yet medical offices are quite slow in switching patient records to electronic files. In fact, just 34.8% of physicians report using a fully functional EHR.
If they do switch, many still keep those paper files in fireproof files or vaults. Schools often do the same thing. But whether that paper remains or not, there are important goals electronic health records software will help achieve. Among them are as follows:
To improve public health. This is already done in a non-universal way. The CDC, for example, gathers and tracks outbreaks of the flu and other diseases. The EHR systems it uses can then make predictions using built-in algorithms and AI.
Collaboration of medical professionals in different specialty fields and locales who are treating the same patient. If, for example, a patient is goes to an emergency room while on vacation, having access to that patient’s records might prove extremely beneficial when determining treatment protocols. Cloud-based electronic health records systems will allow this to happen.
Improving patients’ access to their own medical records and histories. This is already occurring in a number of medical practices. Patients can access electronic charting of their illnesses, medications, check-ups, and vitals through a secure system. And for patients, this allows greater involvement in their own care and treatment as well as easy and complete information should they choose to change medical providers or move.
Preserve patient privacy and confidentiality. One of the disadvantages of EHR software, especially if it is held in the cloud, is hacking. The move toward a systematic electronic medical records system is something that cybercriminals rather relish. So, any health IT trends in 2017 will certainly have to balance security and functionality.
EHR development, applications, and solutions through 2017 and ensuing years will all be based upon these goals of the medical community in collaboration with health software companies. Here are the key trends that are determining the future of electronic health records development:
Integration of Cloud Technology
Large enterprises—and now even smaller ones—realize that continual upgrades of hardware and software to house all of their data can get expensive. And with so many remote employees, all with their own devices, housing data in the cloud is a necessity.
In the past several years, hospitals and large medical facilities/practices have also come to see the convenience of cloud-hosted data as they digitize their records—from billing to facilities maintenance schedules to patient records. Smaller providers have not been “on the radar” of EMR vendors who have been competing for the large contracts.
Now that software and cloud solutions have become far more reasonable, there is a ripe market of small medical practices—practices that may have digital EMR records but still hold them in house. This is a potentially huge market, and the next few years will see more and more small providers adopting custom solutions developed especially for them.
Patient Access Has Become a Matter of Law
Two events have forced change in how patients access their medical records:
- HIPAA regulations are changing. If any medical provider uses EHR features that are cloud-based, that provider must provide the patient with password-protected access to his/her own health records.
- The Feds put into place financial incentives for hospitals that serve Medicare and Medicaid patients to move into EHR software development or purchase such software from a reputable vendor. And, of course, the new HIPAA regs are in place as well.
Trends in the area of patient access in 2017 will probably focus on greater patient use of a system that is there and available. To this end, EMR software development will feature design with easy navigation and a smooth user experience.
Baby boomers, who make up a large chunk of those who regularly use medical providers, will especially need to see that access is simple and that records are in a language they can understand. Delivery systems for EHR will thus be changing as such:
- Making payments online.
- When new or updated forms are necessary, these will be accessible electronically prior to a patient’s visit.
- Already we see urgent care centers and emergency rooms offering online check-ins. This means patients do not face long sessions in waiting rooms and can provide symptoms/conditions before arrival.
- Charting functionality supporting voice commands, which can reduce the time and efforts required from doctors to complete forms. After all, dictating everything even in real time is less stressful than typing in the data manually after the shift.
- Your EHR software can also pull the data from previous months/visits for faster comparison and analytics. For instance, it can immediately calculate that the patient’s blood pressure is 15% lower relative to 3 months before.
- E-prescribing shouldn’t be optional either. Apart from streamlining the amount of paperwork, your staff would be able to review any allergies or restrictions the patient already has.
- Incorporating two-way lab integration and communication, which would enable the monitoring of delivery status/results and automatically add this information with the charts, especially if your practice is heavily lab dependent.
All of these things should improve through 2017 and beyond.
Trending Toward a National Database
Some national databases of patients are already in existence. The Veterans Administration, for example, maintains such a system, and the benefits of EMR are clear. Any veteran who uses the VA as a provider has his or her records in a nationalized database that can be accessed no matter where s/he may move. The CDC has some smaller national databases too.
The question becomes whether private providers are willing to participate in a comprehensive nationalized system. Certainly, the benefits of nationalized electronic health records are easy to see:
- All of a patient’s history is accessible by any provider who may be treating him/her.
- Avoid duplication of tests and other procedures.
- Allergies and other medical conditions are on file and can inform treatment decisions.
Like the objections to government cell phone surveillance, there are many who believe that nationalization of medical records provides too much information to a government they have become wary of. Consider, for example, the privacy rights of a person who has a past history of mental illness. Even though this may have been many years ago, that information is still there to be accessed by government agencies.
Still, the trend is in this direction, and 2017 will probably see it continue.
There are two areas for concern. First, given the HIPAA regs, patients will have to provide informed consent for their health information to be shared. This already occurs as patients give permission for medical providers to share information with their health insurance providers. They will most likely insist, as will that law, that “informed consent” forms be maintained at all times.
The other security issue is cybercrime. Even the best databases with top-of-the-line security systems can be hacked—the IRS, the State Department, Target, Bank of America. No one is fully secure.
Consider the amount of information on patient records: social security numbers, names, addresses, phone numbers, date of birth, credit card information. Everything a hacker needs for identity theft is there. In fact, hackers prefer smaller databases because there is less security, and smaller providers do not take the same precautions that larger medical facilities do.
During 2017 and beyond, there will be more focus on security throughout the medical community. Wearable devices, for example, are easy prey for hackers. Whether it is a “connected” blood pressure monitoring device or a digitized record, the demand for security will be great.
Electronic Health Records is a phenomenon that is rapidly becoming the “norm” for large medical providers. Mid- to small-sized providers will be following suit as they meet the demands of the five goals that the medical community has listed as top priorities.
Even with all of the concerns regarding privacy and security, electronic health record keeping is the only way forward. How far 2017 takes us is yet to be seen.
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