Digital Health 101February 20, 2022

What Are EMR Systems?

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Physicians spend up to 15.6 hours a week on manual paperwork and administrative duties, according to the 2020 Medscape Physician Compensation Report. This means significant focus and time is spent away from the critical task of providing care to patients. Luckily, electronic medical record (EMR) systems help relieve healthcare workers’ administrative burden and offer efficiencies that allow them to spend caring for patients directly. An EMR system is the software that automates the documentation, storage, and retrieval of electronic patient records, and their use has been widely adopted across the medical community.

While these systems may improve a medical professional’s access and ability to track important patient records, the process of selecting, implementing, and using an EMR system can be a significant time and resource investment for healthcare organizations. The adoption of a new system requires careful thought and planning—starting with the basics can help aid in the decision-making process. 

What Are EMR Systems in Healthcare?

EMR software is primarily used by clinicians during patient diagnosis and treatment. These systems are a digital version of a paper chart used in healthcare settings. They generally contain the medical and treatment history of a healthcare organization’s patients. Some of the core functionality for providers and benefits for clinicians provided by EMR systems include the ability to:

  • Track data over time

  • Identify which patients are due for preventive screenings or checkups and when

  • Track patient data, such as blood pressure readings or vaccinations

  • Monitor and improve overall quality of care within the practice

  • Decreasing time-consuming back-office responsibilities, freeing up time to focus on care

Day-to-day, medical professionals generally use EMR systems to chart a patient’s medical history, create patient portals where patients have access to their medical information, manage and request prescriptions, order lab testing, as well as virtually communicate with patients. The system automates many of these common functions and tasks and improves the care experience for both patients and providers.

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What Is the EMR System Experience?

Once a healthcare organization selects the right EMR system for their practice, the experience of adopting and using the system can vary. It is an understatement to say that the adjustment from paper-based health records to a digital experience is challenging, but switching vendors and implementing a new system can be equally challenging. That’s why, to help promote a more seamless adoption, it is important to prepare before implementation, and then implement proper structures to get the most out of a system once it is in place.

Pre-Implementation

Prior to implementation, an organization can prepare for the EMR system by creating a governance model and detailed project plan. Additionally, communicating and involving the organization’s staff and patients, while offering ample training, will help ensure data integrity and create sustainable processes when the system is in place.

Adoption  

While an organization is going through the implementation process, it is important to customize the system to meet an organization’s specific requirements and start to incorporate a change-management process in getting previous records uploaded into the EMR system. A healthcare organization will need to plan for the time it takes staff to learn and use the system and continue to encourage staff along the way.

It is important to note that there can be some barriers to adopting EMR systems. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, some of the most notable barriers include:

  • High initial cost and a return on investment that is not high enough for small practices and other small healthcare providers

  • Underestimation of the organizational capabilities and the true change management required

  • Failure to redesign clinical processes and workflow to incorporate the technology systems in effective ways

  • Concern that systems will become obsolete after a short period

  • Lack of skilled resources for implementation and offer support afterwards

  • Concern that current systems are potentially not meeting needs of rural health centers or federally qualified health centers (FQHC)

  • Concern regarding negative unintended consequences of technology, such as security and privacy issues

What Is the Difference Between EMR and EHR Systems?

Often the terms “electronic medical record” and “electronic health record” are used interchangeably, yet there are key differences. EMR systems focus on “medical” records that clinicians use for diagnosis and treatment, whereas EHR systems cover more territory and can include records from different doctors representing a macro-view of a patient’s holistic health. Additionally, patients are not able to take their EMR with them if they move to a different hospital, clinic, or go to a physician outside their network. Because of this, many medical professionals find that EHR systems provide a larger scope and more flexibility than EMR systems. Find an EHR systems list here. 

An EHR is a digital version of a patient’s medical history. Because they are electronic, these records are updated in real-time and help make information available instantly and more securely to teams of medical professionals. These digital health records generally contain the patients’ medical and treatment histories, but EHR systems extend beyond collecting and storing standard medical data. These virtual systems often become an essential part of a healthcare organization’s IT infrastructure, according to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.

The decision to select an EMR system rather than an EHR system depends on the functionality needed by a healthcare organization. 

Some of the functions of an EHR system include:

  • Data Storage: EHR systems store a patient’s medical history, diagnoses, medications, treatment plans, immunization dates, allergies, radiology images, and laboratory and test results (among other things)

  • Decision Making: EHR systems create an entry point to evidence-based tools that providers leverage to make decisions about a patient’s care day-to-day

  • Automating Workflows: EHR systems automate and streamline provider workflows to help close the loop between content and the care plan, promoting better clinical outcomes

EHR systems contain information from all clinicians involved in a patient’s care. The goal is to use standard information formats so that patient data can be easily shared with other individuals across multiple healthcare organizations—laboratories, specialists, medical imaging, pharmacies, emergency facilities and school and workplace clinics (amongst others). This interoperability, when EHR systems exchange information to help healthcare professionals track treatment progress for patients, helps to make patient care a seamless experience. 

Some the most common information stored in these digital records include:

  • Administrative and billing data

  • Patient demographics

  • Progress notes

  • Vital signs

  • Medical histories

  • Diagnoses

  • Medications

  • Immunization dates

  • Allergies

  • Radiology images

  • Lab and test results

Although there may be some limitations when compared to an EHR system, adopting an EMR system is an important step to centralize and streamline healthcare information. It effectively captures information digitally and can help make historical patient information easily accessible. These digital records help relieve healthcare professionals’ administrative burden and frees up more time for them to spend caring for patients. Once an organization decides to implement an EMR system, they may begin the selection and implementation process.

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