Don't Forget: Electronic Health Records Are Benefiting Patients

by John Halamka

Since its passage three years ago, some in Congress have sought every opportunity to reduce funding related to the Affordable Care Act. It's no surprise that the recent round of sequester cuts have targeted elements of health care technology infrastructure, including the health insurance marketplaces that are meant to be online later this year.

Congress needs to be sure to consider the positives of health IT when considering reductions in ACA-related spending, especially as it comes to widespread use of electronic health records. Change obviously has immediate costs, but investments in updated technology now will improve patient care in the long run.

The advantages of health care transformation can be a challenge to measure because the benefits extend well beyond simple cost savings.  A full calculation of the value of health IT must include:

  • Improving patient safety including when a computer flags a dangerous drug interaction;
  • Enhancing care coordination, such as when a primary care physician has the patient history they need to follow up after a hospital discharge -- which is shown to reduce costly hospital readmissions;
  • Alerting public health officials to disease outbreaks and other public health issues;
  • Allowing specialists hundreds of miles away from a rural hospital to review critical test results;
  • Ensuring pharmacists don't have to decipher a doctor's poor penmanship to provide patients with the right drugs at the right dosages; and
  • Engaging patients in their own health care with online access to lab results and other information.

Real health care transformation -- that Americans universally agree we need -- is not possible without health IT. Investments in health IT are investments to improve the quality of patient care for Americans.

EHRs are improving patient care across the country, and we are on our way to a system that will allow doctors and hospitals nationwide to securely share and store patient records. So whether you're at home or on vacation in another state, if you're ill or injured, important information about your medical condition, including allergies and which medications you're taking, will be available to the medical professionals caring for you.   

We're moving closer to syncing America's health care system together via health IT. In January, more than 100 health IT companies and research organizations tested more than 130 of their systems to ensure health information could be securely exchanged electronically. And this year will mark the first test of important meaningful use standards laid out by the Medicare & Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs, which were authorized by the HITECH provisions of the 2009 federal stimulus package to encourage doctors and hospitals to use EHRs to improve patient care and outcomes. 

Hospitals selecting digital record-keeping systems find endless benefits over paper records. The Medicare & Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs are having a real effect on increasing the U.S. digital health infrastructure. According to recent data from HIMSS Analytics, there has been a 63 percent increase in the number of hospital achieving Stage 7 on the HIMSS Analytics EMRAM Model since the first incentive payments in 2011. The more hospitals that embrace these technologies, the closer we are to secure electronic exchange of health information -- which means we're significantly closer to improving the quality and safety of patient care.

EHRs have been shown to help rein in health care costs too, further justifying installation costs. In one of the debated elements of the ACA, physicians called for malpractice reform. Modern health technology has contributed to lowering those costs, and hospitals that are completely paperless see financial benefits that go beyond no longer having to pay to maintain and store of paper records. Last year, Harvard researchers reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine that malpractice claims for physicians using EHRs were one-sixth of those for doctors not using these systems. Fewer claims will lead to lowered rates for malpractice insurance.

President Obama has said that the ACA is already slowing costs, and further implementations ahead, especially in technology, will continue that drive. Efficient, safe and effective care that can come from EHRs is part of transforming the health care system. The incentive programs have contributed to the accelerating momentum now driving widespread use of health IT.

As representatives and participants in the health IT community, we've seen what this technology has done and can do, and we're here to trumpet these successes in response to backlash. The evidence is there: thanks to the contributions of EHRs, quality of care is improving, safety is improving and medical errors are being reduced. It is the American patient who benefits most of all.

Gadema Quoquoi
Properly deployed ICT, and the appropriate Training will provide this Nation, with a Cost Savings around 20-30 percent of our annual National Healthcare Expenditures.

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