How electronic medical records improve patient outcomes and drive down costs Featured

9:01pm EDT May 31, 2011
How electronic medical records improve patient outcomes and drive down costs

Bulky patient charts holding countless pieces of information and handwritten physicians orders are becoming a thing of the past. Taking their place is the electronic medical record, which can transport patient information in real time with the click of a button.

Smart Business turned to Diana Hendel, PharmD, the CEO of Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach and Community Hospital Long Beach, to learn more.

What are electronic medical records?

An electronic medical record, or what we call an EMR, stores your health history and medical information in an electronic, instead of a paper, format. Using a highly secure network, physicians, nurses and other clinical staff can enter needed patient information, including your doctors’ orders, prescriptions and other important items, directly into a computer. This allows the clinicians to better coordinate care — even from multiple locations — through immediate access to secure data.

Why are they so important?

New digital technologies are maximizing the quality of health care while minimizing errors. This means that pertinent patient information — like diagnoses, test results, imaging, treatments and medical history — is immediately accessible to clinicians providing your care. Our health care professionals can now complete the same tasks in a fraction of the time with more time to interact with patients — which is a welcome change for our staff and our patients.

EMRs are also being used to tackle the age-old problem of having to decipher someone’s handwriting. Physicians now enter their orders directly into the computer system — virtually eliminating the chance of transcription errors and also dramatically improving turnaround time. As an added safety measure, when a physician enters a prescription order, for example, the system automatically checks for any adverse drug interactions or allergies and then immediately alerts the physician if any are found. Evidence-based clinical care guidelines are also integrated into the system, providing valuable decision-support for our physicians right at their fingertips.

How have EMRs been integrated into your hospitals?

Connectivity with our patients and our physicians is a high priority and one that will keep MemorialCare in the forefront of patient care for years to come. As an early adopter of electronic medical records systems, MemorialCare has invested significant capital and human resources into this effort. Both Long Beach Memorial and Miller Children’s have comprehensive EMRs. As a result, we are seeing significant improvements in clinical outcomes, quality, safety and satisfaction for patients; better staff efficiency, accuracy and productivity; and stronger engagement and satisfaction among our physicians, who can more easily retrieve complete patient information.

Thanks to EMRs, less than 1 percent of physician orders are written, thus eliminating nearly all transcription errors and saving millions of dollars a year in duplicate work and paper. The turnaround time for initial physician orders of ‘stat’ medications has been slashed from 41 minutes before EMRs to 6 minutes. Reduced costs associated with EMRs have the potential to save the health care delivery system millions of dollars. And a million fewer sheets of paper copied each month makes us a greener health system.

In addition to the efficiencies and safety benefits for patients, our early adoption of electronic medical records links us with an EMR and user community, making us among a very small percentage of health care organizations nationwide that meets all federally required meaningful use standards for this year.

What about other health care settings?

While many hospitals and health systems are in the preliminary stages of installing EMRs, MemorialCare Health System has already demonstrated the ability to implement inpatient and outpatient systems that connect seamlessly. Government support of doctors and outpatient programs will likely speed adoption. MemorialCare is helping affiliated physicians implement an EMR called myMemorialCare in their practices. Other initiatives ensure physicians with or without an EMR system can easily access their patients’ records. Outpatient records are also available to hospital staff during a patient’s admission. Inpatient and outpatient EMRs combine for a true electronic continuum of care.

How can businesses learn more?

Partner with health care providers online to better manage the health of your employees and their families rather than only managing sickness. Consider educational programs for employees and their families. Encourage the government, foundations and other groups to financially support the health information technology acquisition and implementation. Promote legislation that creates standards for sharing data among health care providers.

While we at MemorialCare Health System have made great progress in this arena, we believe it is important that all organizations from the private and the public sector join together to ensure patient technologies move from access for the few to a necessity for all sectors of the health care industry.

Diana Hendel, PharmD, is the CEO of Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach and Community Hospital Long Beach. The not-for-profit MemorialCare Health System includes Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach, Community Hospital Long Beach, Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley and Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills and San Clemente. For additional information on excellence in health care, please visit memorialcare.org.