EHR question has evolved from 'if' to 'how'

I write a lot about how electronic health records have the potential to improve research, catch diagnostic errors and boost care. Much of this is the macro picture of EHRs and health IT as it affects population health and the nation. Likewise, I relay studies of physicians and hospitals that either are, depending on the study, reaping the benefits of their systems or deeply dissatisfied with them.

So it was nice to speak with Reginald Coopwood, president and CEO of Memphis' Regional Medical Center this month, to learn how EHRs were helping his hospital reduce bloodstream infections, patient length of stay and healthcare costs. Hearing about personal experiences really puts EHR use into perspective.

Even more enlightening, though, was my recent, deep-in-the-weeds experience with the potential of EHRs. It so happens that most of my family's physicians have not adopted EHRs, and have told me they don't plan to.

But my daughter's allergist recommended that I take her to an otolaryngologist for a consult. So here we were, in a new doctor's office, and this practice happened to have an EHR. So I got an impromptu demonstration of what an EHR can do.

I wasn't impressed that the practice had an EHR; what impressed me was that the practice could access my daughter's five-year-old MRI results, despite the fact that I had all but forgotten that she had ever had an MRI. The films are with both the allergist and the pediatrician, neither of whom have an EHR, and I had not asked them for copies before we came for the consult (I wasn't even sure which radiologist had performed the MRI back in 2008). But the ear, nose and throat doctor located the correct MRI within five minutes and was able to swiftly diagnose my daughter's problem.   

No delays while one doc had to contact another doc. No transporting film back and forth. No need for a second MRI.

Of course, it's not always so simple. For every two steps forward, there's one step back. One successful sharing of data does not mean that there's wide spread interoperability. Sometimes EHRs can impede workflow. For every patient that can access his electronic records, it seems as if there's a physician who is against it.

But if this is the future of healthcare--if we can see firsthand the benefit of EHRs--then this is promising. Very promising.

Outgoing National Coordinator for Health IT Farzad Mostashari, in an interview with FierceHealthIT, noted that health IT was inevitable, and that the issue was no longer if we should do it but how best to do it.

The question has changed from "whether" to "how". I agree.

Let's just hope that we can agree on which 'how' is best. - Marla (@MarlaHirsch)