For years doctors, clinics, hospitals, and nurses have been using the plain method of having written and paper documents for their patients’ records. This process is slow, inefficient, hard to manage, and can lead to poor health care because of its weakness to error. The solution to this problem has been the adoption of EMR – Electronic Health Record. These are digital documents linking to patients’ history that can extend several years back and have a dramatic effect on the efficient processing of patient data. With EMR, sharing of medical records and histories with other clinics and hospitals becomes easy as the records can be linked to other EMRs maintained by the other party or clinic. The sharing of such information leads to better health care as information is fast and accessible. So what’s slowing down the adoption of this great system? Let’s explore the issues around EMR.
EMR and Medical Usage
EMRs are created in a health-care facility such as a hospital or clinic. They contain patient data such as symptoms, diagnoses, and medication reports. These digital records are usually maintained in a database using SQL software or other database tools. A 2009 Deloitte survey indicated that two-thirds of Canadians want access to personal health records,
“…and 51 percent want to be able to schedule office visits, view test results, order prescription refills, find out about treatment options and check status payments securely online. And half of the survey respondents also want the ability to communicate with their health care providers by e-mail.”(1)
The benefit of inputting these records as digital is that they not only save on paper, but the records can be searched and scanned quite easily with any computer linked to the EMR system. Imagine having to go through thousands of pages to look up a certain patient’s history. This can all be made convenient with records that are computer-searchable and produce results in seconds.
“A 2007 National Physician Survey by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) reported only 12 percent of family and general phsyicans use electronic charts, while 19.4 percent use a combination of paper charts and electronic records.” (2)
Benefits of EMR
The slow adoption can be seen with such stats as the above. The benefits have to be made clear to the physicians so that adoption of EMR increases. Saving on paper is a huge benefit of EMRs. The amount of space paper records take is sometimes debilitating for clinics to handle. Folders with patient data run into the hundreds of pages and with an increasing population, the room for such paper-rich records doesn’t exist in the office. EMRs eliminate this. All the records of the clinic can fit on to hard drives that are in expensive, and with regular backups they are safe. These backups can also be made online, such that if a fire was to result the files would also be stored off-site. X-Ray data can also be stored in the EMR and this helps save expensive film and developing costs. Doctors can view the X-Rays on their own computer.
As the cost of material is lower in EMR systems, paper records become inefficient and error prone due to poor legibility of the doctor’s or medical practitioner’s handwritten notes. This has resulted in cases where mistakes were made in patient care because of the poor legibility of the doctor’s handwriting. With EMR, errors of this nature are significantly reduced. Handwritten records are not as easily shareable with others (such as fax) because the risk of error still remains, while with EMR the database is dynamic and easily extendable to other computers outside the medical facility.
Main Reason for Slow Adoption
The main reason of slow adoption is not because it’s expensive (which it is not), or that the technology has not improved enough (it has), or that doctors are not computer literate (doesn’t require a lot of computer knowledge), but that the inputting of the data is slow. Doctors can quickly scribble down notes very fast with a pen and a pad, but to type in things into a computer takes a bit more time and time is something doctors don’t have much of. Believe it or not, but this is the main reason doctors are slow in adopting EMRs. In this case, yes, the technology has not advanced to the degree where doctors can input patient data fast; as fast or faster than writing with hand. Until we do find a way to input Doctor data in fast, EMRs may take up to forty to fifty years before complete adoption nationwide.
(1) Backbone Magazine: http://www.backbonemag.com/Magazine/2011-03/will-health-care-ever-go-digital.aspx
(2) Backbone Magazine: http://www.backbonemag.com/Magazine/2011-03/will-health-care-ever-go-digital.aspx