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Are electronic medical records good for healthcare?

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
electronic medical records, health informationtechnology, hacking

Last week, the American College of Physicians (ACP), the Bipartisan Policy Center, and Doctors Helping Doctors Transform Health Care released the results of a survey evaluating whether physicians believed that electronic medical records were beneficial to healthcare. The investigators noted that health information technology (HIT), including the use of electronic health records (EHRs), the implementation of systems to enable electronic prescribing by physicians, and health information exchanges have the potential for improving the quality of patient care, reducing medical errors, increasing efficiency, reducing administrative costs, and achieving substantial cost savings.

The ACP survey was described as a collaborative effort led primarily by doctors, for doctors, to support the transformation of healthcare through health information technology. The ACP distributed the survey through a variety of medical association newsletters and online lists related to EHR and information technology. The data gathering encompassed approximately 45,000 possible recipients. Of those individuals, 725 completed the survey information. The ACP excluded 198 for one of three reasons: (1) The survey was incomplete; (2) The respondent was an EHR vendor or advertiser rather than a clinician; or (3) The respondent was not a US resident.

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The remaining 527 respondents were predominantly primary care providers who worked in group practices of 10 physicians or less. Compared to the medical community as a whole, 75% were EHR users; the percentage for the medical community as a whole was 55%. Therefore, the investigators conclude that an overwhelming majority of physicians believe that the electronic exchange of health information will have a positive impact on improving the quality of patient care, coordinating care, meeting the demands of new care models, and participating in third-party reporting and incentive programs.

Take home message:
A limitation of this study was that out of 45,000 possible recipients, only 725 completed the survey and only 527 qualified for inclusion. Thus, it is difficult to argue that physicians are overwhelmingly in favor of electronic medical records. In general, younger physicians who are more familiar with information technology are more likely to embrace it. EHRs have the potential to greatly improve transmission of medical information between medical facilities and allow access to information when an individual is stricken with an illness when away from his or her community. The major argument to EHRs is the possibility of hacking, which could result in personal harm to a patient. Almost daily, the media contains articles pertaining to data leaks. Not all are due to hacking. For example, last year, officials at Stanford Hospital (Palo Alto, California) confirmed that for almost a year, private medical data for nearly 20,000 emergency room patients were exposed because a billing contractor’s marketing agent sent the electronic spreadsheet to a job prospect as part of a skills test. Despite the risk of data leaks, the benefits of electronic medical data exchange far outweigh the potential harm of data leaks.

Reference: American College of Physicians