UPMC Health Plan: How electronic health records are being utilized in health care today

The advantages of an electronic health record (EHR) for individuals are readily apparent to many physicians. According to the most recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control, 75 percent of physicians who have adopted EHR say the technology has led to better care.

But, for any number of reasons, that message has not quite gotten through to the general population. Privacy and security concerns are the major reasons cited by the public for its unease, and the main factors keeping many people from embracing the concept, even as the nation becomes more “digitized” in other areas.

“The general public doesn’t know much about electronic health records, and so there is some unease about the concept,” says Dr. Stephen Perkins, vice president of Medical Affairs for UPMC Health Plan. “It will take an educational effort to get more people to see what the positive impact of EHRs can be.”

Smart Business spoke with Perkins about the advantages of EHRs and the impact it can have on health care.

What are electronic health records?

EHRs are an electronic record of information that reflects all of the health care that was delivered to a specific patient in various locales over the years. The information can include patient demographics, progress notes, medications, vital signs, medical history, immunizations, laboratory data and radiology reports. Ideally, an EHR gives a physician a streamlined look at a patient’s complete health record and should make the delivery of health care more efficient and effective.

Why is there resistance to EHRs?

In a Harris Interactive survey taken in 2012, only about one quarter of the respondents said they wanted their records to be transferred from paper to an electronic version, and 85 percent of respondents expressed some kind of concern about EHRs. The survey also revealed that only 40 percent of people think that EHRs would help doctors deliver better, more efficient care, which is actually a slight decrease from previous years.

The reasons for the resistance include a fear of records being stolen by computer hackers, the potential for misuse of the personal information stored, and even the fact that physicians might not be able to access a patient’s record during a power or computer outage.

Even some physicians see a downside to EHRs. In a recent study by the American Medical Association, some physicians complained that EHRs increase their data entry responsibilities and requires them to perform added, time-consuming tasks.

What are the advantages of EHRs?

With EHRs, the chance of medical errors should be reduced because the accuracy and clarity of medical records is improved. When a vast amount of patient information is available in one place, it also should reduce test duplication, in turn reducing treatment delays and helping patients be better informed to make better decisions.

Other advantages of EHRs range from conservation of storage space to the fact that EHRs make patient information accessible from remote sites to many people at the same time. EHRs can make communication between health care providers easier and better, and the information is less likely to be lost or destroyed.

Are there any disadvantages to EHRs?

Disadvantages would include the initial expense, the unwillingness of employees to adapt to the new technology and the need for additional maintenance. The cost of starting an EHR system can be excessive, especially during a time when health care organizations are extremely concerned about higher prices. But it also can be argued that EHRs will ultimately reduce costs and improve quality by helping providers and patients be better informed, by eliminating costly and unnecessary duplicate tests and by helping to better coordinate care.

How can resistance be overcome?

Basically, patients need to be educated to the fact that EHRs will not replace their personal physician. EHRs just help their physician do a better job. Nothing can replace the critical thinking ability of a physician. What a well-designed EHR system can do is collect and disseminate information and assist in decision-making.

Dr. Stephen Perkins is a vice president of Medical Affairs at UPMC Health Plan. Reach him at (412) 454-7682 or [email protected].

Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan

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