EHRs can measure non-clinical processes that may affect care

Electronic health records can record not only clinical care, but non-clinical information to assess patient-physician interaction and determine how that may impact patient care, according to a new study in Health Services Research.

The researchers, from the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Research Institute and the University of Minnesota, sought to assess the reliability of data in EHRs for measuring the processes of care among primary care physicians, and examine the relationship, if any, between these measures and clinical outcomes. They studied data for 13,370 patients with diabetes and 49,561 patients with hypertension in Northern California, examining the number of e-messages between patients and physicians, the number of e-messages among physicians about their patients, and the "time to third" next available appointment, which indicates continuity of non-urgent care.

The resources found that all three were reliable factors of physician processes of care. The patient outreach also seemed to affect clinical outcomes; better cholesterol and blood pressure control were associated with more frequent messaging to diabetic patients; and more in-person visits were associated with better blood pressure control in the hypertension patients. 

"The EHR offers process of care measures which can augment patient-reported measures of patient-centeredness," the researchers noted.

However, the study didn't necessarily indicate a direct cause and effect between the non clinical processes and the clinical outcomes, according to an announcement. The study authors themselves recommended that future research be conducted.

This is not the first study indicating that EHRs and other health IT tools can facilitate communication between caregivers and patients, and that patients increasingly turn to them. One recent survey found that 17 percent of consumers use e-health tools and 85 percent want to communicate with their providers via email or secure messaging.

To learn more:
- here's the study abstract
- here's the announcement