Electronic Health Records: For Your Information
The Electronic Health Record (EHR), also known as an Electronic Medical Record (EMR), is an all too familiar sight in most healthcare settings. It has replaced your paper chart with a specially-designed computer program that is maintained by your provider or healthcare system. Your EHR can include your contact information, progress notes written by your providers, medications, vital signs (blood pressure, pulse, temperature, weight), past medical history, immunizations, and test reports. The number of storable documents is endless.
There are many Advantages to having an EHR...
- Includes all your health-related information
- Can be updated at any time by your provider and their team
- Health information can be found quickly and brought up by the medical staff
- Can be viewed by other consulting providers
- Allows for quicker and more efficient data-gathering and number analysis
- Monitors activity in your health after changes in medication, diet, or activity
- Flags the provider when you are due for follow-up, such as with wellness physicals, immunizations, lab tests, and other procedures
- Encourages communication between you and your provider, such as by sending an email to your health clinic
- Reduces the risk of medical errors. For example, if a new medication is added to your list of medications, the EHR can identify possible drug interactions between them
- Improves the accuracy and clarity of medical records (no more trying to read illegible handwriting)
- Reduces healthcare costs by improving the quality of healthcare: making the health information readily available, reducing repeat testing, and reducing delays in treatment
…and there are some Drawbacks
- Limits use of the EHR by those who do not have a computer, or who do not know how to use a computer
- While each healthcare system will use a certain brand of EHR throughout its organization, there is no guarantee the competing healthcare system will use the same one, making it more difficult for opposing systems to share your health record electronically
- Learning how to correctly use the EHR can take time for both the provider and patient
- The EHR may need to be looked at and added to by nearly every person in the clinic. Your EHR can be seen by unauthorized eyes, as with paper charts
- There is a risk of unauthorized access to your protected health information by hackers and by theft of electronic devices containing health information
HIPAA: Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act
HIPAA establishes national standards to protect your medical record and those healthcare providers that conduct healthcare activities electronically. The policy requires safeguards to protect the privacy of personal health information, and sets limits and conditions on the use and release of such information without your authorization.
Healthcare systems and EHR businesses work to protect patient confidentiality by
- Continually updating firewall and security programs
- Installing and maintaining anti-virus software
- Requiring annual employee HIPAA training
Financial penalties range from $100 to $50,000 for unauthorized individuals who look at your electronic or paper health record. In addition, if the individual works within the healthcare system, they risk losing their job as a result.
Learn more about the healthcare system in my book, The Practical Patient.