This article presents a comprehensive discussion on the Electronic Health Record Systems and their benefits. Conventional healthcare practices have been transformed significantly due to the seamless integration of technology in daily life. As a result, in several advanced countries, the paper-based health records have also been digitized thus introducing the concepts of Personal health Record (PHR) and Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems. In fact, both the EHR and the PHR are the digital version of the patients’ health information; however, there is a significant difference between the two. An obvious difference between PHR and the EHR is in terms of their management. The EHRs are administered in all respects, for example exchange and storage by the healthcare providers or by any of the entities that has been deputed for their management whereas the PHRs are managed by the patients themselves. In other words, in EHR system, the owner of the electronic health information is the health provider while in the case of PHR, the patients regulate the access to their digital health information and decide about their sharing with other entities.
From the perspective of healthcare providers, the primary aim for the development of an EHR system is to acquire, store, access, and exchange the patients’ health information among the several participating entities. In other words, the electronic health record systems serve as the tool to manage the patients’ health information.
What is the Structure of an Electronic Health Record?
There is usually a question that what type of information is actually contained in an EHR. There is a variety of information that is present in an EHR and it is important to understand that due to their capability to contain diversified information about the patients in a single record structure, the healthcare sector has been revolutionized because now this information can be utilized and operated in various ways by a variety of stakeholders. If we analyse the information encapsulated in an electronic health record, we can see that the information contained in it can be categorized into: (i) Patient Demographics and (ii) Patient Health Information. Typically, the following information is present in each of the two aforementioned components.
- Patient Demographics—this includes the information, such as gender, age, height, weight, ethnicity, nationality etc.
- Patient Health Information—this consists of the information, such as patient medical history, family medical history in some cases, allergies, prescriptions and treatments, reports of the laboratory tests, information about vital signs, such as blood pressure, pulse rate, and temperature etc.
Electronic Health Record System Benefits
The EHR systems bring several benefits for the stakeholders, such as the patients, doctors, and health insurance providers of this ecosystem. The benefits from the perspective of each of the stakeholders are briefly discussed here.
Benefits from the patients’ perspective
- From the patients’ perspective, an apparent benefit is that they no longer are required to keep their paper-based health records, laboratory test reports, and prescriptions etc. in the physical files. Instead, all the information is available online which can be retrieved at anytime from anywhere. Moreover, the patients can better coordinate with the doctors through the Web portals for appointments, prescription refills, and to have a quick and better overview of their overall health related affairs. Furthermore, it can save patients lots of costs in terms of traveling that is incurred in case of physical visits.
Benefits from the healthcare providers’ perspective
- From the perspective of the doctors and healthcare providers, a key benefit of the EHR systems is the improved quality of care where with the aid of the knowledge-based medical decision support systems, the chances of making inaccurate diagnosis and treatments by the doctors are minimized.
- Another advantage from the viewpoint of providers is the increased efficiency and reduced costs in terms of managing the physical records of the patients, prescriptions and transcriptions since all the required information is easily searchable and no physical logistics are required to manage the physical records.
Benefits from the health insurance providers’ perspective
- In addition, the processes of billing and processing of health insurance claims become faster as the records are transmitted just on clicks from one stakeholder to another.
Benefits from the perspective of diagnostic laboratories
- Through the integrated EHR systems, the laboratories can directly receive the orders from the doctors regarding the laboratory tests. Hence, the possibilities of confusions generated as a result of miscommunication are minimized. Moreover, the laboratories can transmit the test reports back to the doctors and hospitals through the electronic means thereby saving the time.
Support in Generation of Data Repositories
- The electronic health record systems that contain a comprehensive record of patients of diverse diseases emerge as the large repositories of medical data that the researchers use for applying several artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques for disease diagnosis and drawing the powerful correlations among the several variables significant for different diseases. Moreover, such data repositories also help predict the risks of certain type of disease for patients with different symptoms. Particularly, such repositories are important in context of the developing countries to them help utilize the data for predictive analytics in healthcare.
Is an EHR System Equally Viable for Every Community?
Aside from their effectiveness, there is an important question that whether is it feasible and affordable for every country to have such systems in place? As a matter of fact, their successful implementation in a developed country cannot be generalized and it would entirely be a false assumption to think that the EHR implementation in every country is equally easy and effective. This is an important consideration that should be kept in mind while assessing the impacts of the EHR systems in their target environments. For countries with better financial conditions, the affordability of setting up an integrated healthcare infrastructure is not a big problem financially and also the acceptability of technology in general public is high. As a result, EHR adoption is not a great issue.
On the other hand, for the developing or third world countries, even in 21st century, implementing the EHR systems is still a challenge. In fact, this challenge has several facets and among the top two are the: (i) economic growth and (ii) the availability of supporting infrastructure to assist is digitization. The governments in these countries cannot afford to divert the budgets from other heads to this side because it’s not just putting the system into place only. Instead, it needs a significant amount of funds to keep these systems live and running. Moreover, a significant proportion of the population has limited access to the ICT infrastructure; therefore, even if the EHR systems in such settings are deployed, it might take years to get benefits from them. HOWEVER, ONE HAS TO START FROM SOMEWHERE AND TAKE THE FIRST STEP.