EHRs have turned a corner

The jury may still be out on how the Meaningful Use program should operate and whether it really improves quality. There's no question, however, that the program was the catalyst for massive, high-speed adoption of electronic health records--and that the industry may have just turned a corner in its use and attitude regarding such systems.    

Just take a look at some of the recent evidence. While there are still reports that physicians are dissatisfied with EHRs, a new study finds that the rate of dissatisfaction is declining. EHRs are finally being tweaked to improve workflow; vendors are providing more support (I suspect that providers also are getting more accustomed to using them).

Moreover, while there still are studies that find fault with EHRs, of late, it seems, more of them tilt in favor of their ability to help pinpoint patients at risk, improve research and increase preventive care. It makes sense. They're number-crunching computers that can perform data analytics on a large-scale basis.

Then there's the maturation of the health information exchanges (HIEs), a key tenet of EHRs. Although HIEs have had their share of troubles (Kansas, anyone?), they're beginning to work as intended. They also are beginning to gain firmer financial ground. Robyn Rontal, MHSA, JD, Director of HCV Data Analytics for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan pointed out in a recent webinar sponsored by the American Bar Association's Health Law Section that data sharing via HIEs is resulting in lower costs and better clinical outcomes.

Additionally, patients are slowly but surely joining the EHR party, with more providers offering patients access to their electronic records. The ability to review clinical records will spur consumers into becoming active participants in their care in a way that payer-driven consumer directed healthcare (CDHC) never could. Sure, being on the hook personally to pay for medical treatments due to CDHC's high deductibles highlights how expensive care is, but it doesn't necessarily improve care. At most, it may make patients shop for cheaper care, or forego care altogether. But access to one's records has shown that it helps patients understand their care and improves treatment plan adherence. This is transformative.

EHR adoption is beginning to gel in practical, wide-spread ways. It's been moving in fits and starts, sometimes two steps forward and one step back, but it is taking hold. 

The time has come for people to stop complaining about EHRs and to focus on their future.

There's still much room for improvement. We know that the Meaningful Use program could use some tweaking; HHS is working on that, restructuring its workgroups and scaling back Stage 3. The cost of EHRs really needs to be reckoned with. EHRs still struggle with fundamental design issues, such as the ease of a security breach and annoying data input. And of course, they can unintentionally threaten patient safety, a fundamental flaw.

But there's no turning back now. EHRs are being recognized for their benefits. They are not a panacea. They are not (yet) perfect, but used correctly, they are quite a helpful tool. - Marla (@MarlaHirsch @FierceHealthIT)