EHRs and radiology: Despite progress, work remains

Research published this month in Health Affairs demonstrates the value that the implementation of electronic health records can bring to patient care when it comes to the radiological practice. 

The ability of interpreting radiologists to retrieve information from EHRs--rather than simply rely on information gathered from emergency physicians--influenced the way in which they were able to interpret the exams, according to the study's authors. Simply put, access to the EHR allowed radiologists to make better decisions when it came to recommending appropriate imaging, and avoid inappropriate imaging and incorrect diagnoses.

The study, as one of the researchers said, "exemplifies the power of EHRs and their potential impact on patient care and positive outcomes. Healthcare providers must recognize the value of implementing EHRs and foster their widespread adoption."

Meanwhile, a report published last week by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT suggests that hospitals are doing what those researchers recommend. ONC has found that hospitals are dramatically bolstering their health IT systems by increasingly adopting capabilities like EHRs and health information exchange. More than 90 percent of non-federal acute care hospitals, according to the report, now are in possession of certified EHR technology, while 40 percent have the ability to send and receive electronic information--such as radiology reports--to external providers.

Even more encouraging is the fact that hospital adoption of "comprehensive" EHR systems that contain advanced functionalities--like clinical decision support and computerized physician order entry--has increased eight-fold since 2009. This is particularly good news for radiologists who have been pushing for the implementation of advanced functionalities like CDS to help improve the quality, delivery and reporting of imaging procedures.

Despite all of this, some hospitals still have a way to go when it comes to adapting impactful EHR systems. According to ONC, a number of hospitals are still working with systems that have fairly primitive capabilities. They can't, for example, enable users to view radiology reports or laboratory results, and certainly lack clinical decision reports. More than 10 percent of hospitals had basic EHRs that couldn't do something as simple as capture physician notes (a requirement for Stage 2 of the Meaningful Use incentive program, which aims to push adoption of EHRs nationally).

While the news out of ONC is good, there's room for improvement. Considering the evidence provided by studies like the one in Health Affairs, continued growth in the adoption of EHRs--particularly those with advanced capabilities--can only serve to improve care quality, lower healthcare costs and improve individual and population health. - Mike (@FierceHealthIT)

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