A shared electronic health record system between primary care practices and the after-hours providers they use is "extremely helpful" in maintaining continuity of patient information, according to a new study by the Center for Studying Health System Change, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
Improving after-hours access to care would improve outcomes and at a lower cost than use of a hospital's emergency department. However, access to such care in the United States is "poor," according to the study, which strove to identify the most effective models of after-hours care.
Interviewing 44 primary care physicians and others from 28 organizations in 16 states, the researchers identified five different methods that primary care practices have used to offer after-hours care to patients, including affiliations among medical groups, use of large networks, and contracts with after-care providers.
The researchers found that a shared EHR "greatly facilitated informational continuity between after-hours and usual daytime providers" and that practices were more likely to track and manage patient information and provide after-hours care with it.
"Electronic health records will be crucial to informational continuity in these arrangements and after-hours care providers need to be part of this loop," the researchers wrote.
EHR interoperability is one of the hallmarks of improving patient care and a major tenet of the Meaningful Use incentive program. Practitioners are beginning to embrace the concept, experimenting with sharing EHR access with others, such as school nurses, to improve care and communication.