Pros and Cons of Electronic Health Records
You already know how important computer and software systems are in delivering healthcare, especially from the perspective of improving employee productivity and treating more patients more effectively. That’s true in a general sense, but not all healthcare providers have insight into a particular type of software used in hospitals, practices and clinics all across the country—electronic health care record or EHR software.
In the field of medicine, computerization is required in order to manage the enormous volume of data that medical practices, clinics, and hospitals create and store for each patient. EHR software saves practices time and money, as well as helps them communicate instantly with insurers, hospitals, and referring physicians.
However, there are still medical organizations that try to get by with generic software to manage patient data, not realizing what’s involved in an EHR solution. A primitive database might have sufficed when the practice first opened its doors, but a software solution tailored to the needs of medical staffers is far more appropriate.
It is prudent for a medical practice manager or owner to want to evaluate the potential benefits as well as possible drawbacks of deploying an EHR solution before committing to installing it and training staff in its use. With that in mind, here are pros and cons of Electronic Health Records that will help your team determine how the software would integrate into your current system.
Pros of Electronic Health Records
There are a number of pros of electronic health records to consider, with financial benefits, templates and patient portal functionality being key:
1. Financial Opportunities
Your organization needs to use computerized patient records with a certified EHR. That’s what’s needed to demonstrate Meaningful Use and obtain the financial incentives offered by Medicare and Medicaid (the government encourages EHR usage in the name of efficiency and promotes use of the software accordingly).
Additional financial incentives from the government are also available only if medical professionals use an EHR to document their compliance with value based care initiatives, such as data to support the Patient Centered Medical Home or PCHM model.
2. Time-Saving Templates
Already designed templates are a major example of pros of electronic health records. Using templates, whether for general practice encounters with patients or for use in a specialty will ensure that staff members always input the correct information about patients before closing the updated record (for example, the staff will type in much different information for an oncology appointment and for a patient visiting the OB/GYN).
3. Patient Portal Improves Access
A great way to save time and boost patient engagement is to activate the patient portal in your EHR system. It lets patients type in their own information with a computer at home or at a kiosk in your waiting room, freeing them from entering redundant details on multiple stacks of paper forms. Your staff won’t need to spend time entering this information now either.
Patient portals are proving to be quite valuable as the nation copes with the mounting coronavirus pandemic of COVID-19 infections. The Centers for Disease Control reports that telehealth modalities for storing and forwarding secure messages, data and images work well in patient portals. This is especially important as people are encouraged to practice social distancing. Patients don’t have to come into the office to fill out forms first, cutting down time on exposure to others in the waiting area.
Cons of Electronic Health Records
Whenever you computerize patient records, you have to be careful about protecting the data from unauthorized access. There are some potential cons of electronic health records to keep in mind as you prepare to deploy a system.
1. Criminal Hackers
You can say that one con of adopting an EHR is that your IT department will have to exercise extreme diligence to protect sensitive data from criminal hackers.
For example, you have to guard against ransomware attacks, accounts of which continue to fill the news. This kind of crime involves hackers installing malware on a medical organization’s servers. They hold data hostage until receiving money, often in bitcoin, using cryptocurrency to hide their tracks. Meanwhile, patient details are unavailable, and work can slow down. There is also the potential for the public to learn about the data breach, ruining the practice’s reputation.
You can address such concerns head-on by working with IT professionals to safeguard your system with a firewall and other software security tools. Going with a cloud-based EHR solution gives you even greater flexibility, since you can quickly get back up and running by restoring data from cloud servers. This protects you in emergencies, such as if there is a server problem on your end, or if a natural disaster requires you to move your staff to a temporary location.
2. Developer Fails to Provide Timely Updates
Another potential con would be if the EHR comes from a developer that has not updated on a regular basis for some time now. Pay attention to their record, as this is a warning sign that they may not be invested in the future of their software.
3. Not Following Software Industry Best Practices
What’s worse, the developers may no longer have the capability to upgrade their EHR in accordance with industry best practices and government regulations. It’s best to go with an EHR software provider with a proven track record and many years in the industry. Read reviews carefully and ask your colleagues what software they use (and if they recommend it or not).
Carefully Weigh the Pros and Cons of Electronic Health Records for Your Practice
Doctors are trained to be prudent and cautious about adopting new techniques, wanting evidence and documentation that a new way of doing things will benefit them and their patients (in improved care as well as saving time, for example). That’s a good approach when it comes to looking at the software and computer systems your medical staff will use every day caring for patients.
There is no need to rush to install computer technology and software as soon as it’s released, though. Early adopters sometimes have to suffer through bugs and crashes with new software, so waiting to see how the latest version shakes out in actual field use is a safe approach before upgrading your own software.
But dragging your heels about finally transitioning to a solid, well-tested version of an EHR that would clearly benefit patients and staff can wind up turning into a drag on your bottom line.
Don’t let information paralysis delay you installing an EHR system once your team has determined you need to deploy the software now. The longer you wait, the more of a drag you can expect on your bottom line. EHRs promote efficiency and therefore are a time-tested way to improve a practice’s revenue cycle.
After considering the various pros and cons of using an EHR, you’ll have more insight into how the software will integrate in your organization’s current setup.
To that end, chances are that at least some of your fellow stakeholders could use some detailed information and guidance on selecting, deploying and using electronic health records software.
We’ve provided answers to the toughest EHR questions in our free ebook, Electronic Health Records Software: A Vital Component to Any Modern Medical Practice.
About Stephen O'Connor
As a Director of Digital Marketing at Advanced Data Systems Corporation, Stephen spends his day's planning, writing, & designing resources for the modern healthcare professional. He has a strong affinity for snow crab legs, the ocean, and Rutgers Football.