Friday, November 19, 2010

What is an EHR?

When I first heard the term “EHR” I was at a clinic and really confused. I wasn’t confused because of the EHR, I was confused because I’d been taking massive doses of cold medicine for 3 days and thought my head was about to float off without my body. So when a pleasantly smiley woman behind the clinic check-in counter mentioned an EHR I didn’t really hear her and thought that she was saying that I had to go to the ER. I must have looked absolutely panicked for a moment because she quickly assured me that it was perfectly safe and that my information was going to be just as secure as it was before. I nodded, still confused, but filled out the medical history paperwork provided for me. When I turned it in, I was promised that my EHR would be entered onto a secure server and that I would no longer need to fill out this information when I came to the hospital. At that point, I realized that I had not really understood what just happened and asked just what and EHR was.

I was happy to find out that it wasn’t anything bad.

EHR stands for Electronic Health Records, which are also sometimes called EMR, Electronic Medical Records, or even EPR, Electric Patient Records. All of those specifics are really for doctors and other medical professionals to work out, but to us patients it all just means the same thing. We’re going to have some changes to deal with and a uncertain transition period, but in the end it’s going to make our lives just a little bit easier, a little less stressful, and safer.

EHR, EMR, EPR, one way or the other, all of this alphabet soup is referring to the same thing; an individual computerized profile of a patient’s medical history. Right now, for the most part, our records sit around in folders in the basements of hospitals in rows and rows of paper. Compared to a record on a computer, a paper record is bulky and has to be organized and physically retrieved. Folders can be misplaced, lost or even damaged. The whole system runs without the efficiency of electronic communication that already characterizes how we do business, get our news and entertainment and communicate with loved ones in our daily lives. Maybe I’m just an idealist, but I for one feel like it’s pretty obvious that something as important as our health should get with the times and join us in the 21st century. EHR can help get us there.

That’s not to say that there isn’t legitimate concern and real resistance to change. For the doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff, an EHR mean learning a new system. Now I know that I’m not usually eager to learn a new way of doing things when I don’t feel like there’s a problem with my current performance. A lot of doctors feel the same way, and there’s bound to be resistance, but there also are plenty of doctors, nurses and other health care professionals out there who can really see the benefits to an EHR, like faster communication, clear records not plagued by infamous doctors’ scrawls, and computerized fail safes. Most other countries use sophisticated EHR systems to keep track of patient records and streamline the whole medical process. We’re realizing that in America we need to be willing to keep up with the times and realize that we can start asking our technology for help.

When you get right down to it an ERH is just information entered into a software program to create a medical profile that keeps track of medical histories, test results, diagnoses and medications. There is no one system our there; many companies currently working on developing the best possible EHR systems to meet the needs of hospitals, doctors and patients. EHR systems allow the doctors to create an account of individual records that keeps track of test results and diagnosis over the lifetime of the patient. This means that anyone in the hospital can take a look at your profile, or should I say EHR, and know why you are here and where you need to go next. The EHR system also builds in important security measures into the system so that your doctor will be instantly aware of any possible drug interactions or allergies to medication. An EHR is able to warm about problems before they become problems.

But all of this doesn’t really get to the heart of the issue. What does an EHR mean for you? It means that I’ll me you’ll have to fill out a big patient profile, which is annoying, but you won’t have to do it again. It means that there will problem be some bugs in the system while the hospital, doctors and nurses try to figure out all he kinks in the system. But it also means that your health care is going to become quicker, more streamlined and safer for you and your loved ones and that outweighs the inevitable growing pains of starting up a new system. As cheesy as it sounds, the future is now and we can’t really be content to hold onto a past that doesn’t really work all that great anyway.

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