Electronic health records can reduce the hectic pace of physician practices and the resulting patient safety problems, but not in a vacuum, according to a recent article in American Medical News.
The article, reporting on the results of a recent study by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), noted that EHRs are a "critical first step" in improving safety, but only if practices make the most of their EHR systems and utilize standardized procedures, according to David L. Bronson, M.D., president of the American College of Physicians and president of Cleveland Clinic Regional Hospitals.
"Going electronic is a tool, but you have to implement it appropriately," Bronson said.
For instance, the AHRQ survey noted that 52 percent of respondents said that they had fully implemented electronic prescribing, and 93 percent said that they had been contacted by a pharmacy within the past year to clarify a prescription order. Presumably, the number of necessary clarifications would be reduced if more physicians were e-prescribing.
Other quality and safety problems noted by AHRQ included delayed appointments, misfiled patient information, unavailable medical records and outdated medication lists.
"It's a lot about the other part of fixing your system and your processes," said Hardeep Singh, M.D., chief of the health policy and quality program at the Houston Veterans Affairs Health Services Research & Development Center of Excellence. "Obviously, that includes using technology to the optimal setting--not just throwing an EHR in the office and now you've got an EHR and thinking you've got nothing more to worry about. You've got to make your EHR work for your practice."
Patient safety and quality have always been issues of concern throughout the industry. AHRQ has previously advocated that EHRs can improve the quality of care and help reduce disparities in the quality of care. The agency also recently issued a guide to help providers adopt EHRs and deal with their unintended consequences.