Old problems still plague the electronic medical records industry despite technological advances
Advances in technology, the development of new online resources, and major advances in cybersecurity have enabled many industries to make tremendous strides in their operational efficiencies. Unfortunately, much of the healthcare industry operates like it did in the 1980s when it comes to storing, managing, and sharing Electronic Health Records (EHRs). Many existing EHR platforms have significant interoperability issues that often preclude the management and sharing of records between systems. This is forcing doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, and other healthcare providers to manage records in many ways the way they did 20 years ago. Medical record ownership is fragmented, and healthcare providers still use outdated methods such as faxing and mail to exchange medical records. This inefficiency has created several problems across the board for both healthcare providers and patients.
In my experience, most hospitals, doctor’s offices and healthcare providers are still unable to work with a system of record where a patient’s entire medical history can be viewed, shared and stored with the patient as the primary point of entry. Recent estimates show that interoperability issues between current electronic medical record platforms are costing US hospitals more than $30 billion annuallyand problems caused by delayed or missing recordings lead to misdiagnosis and other errors that cause more than $750 billion in annual losses.
Problems faced by healthcare providers due to unavailability and difficulties in sharing patient records are common. Repetitive and unnecessary testing occurs when providers are unable to access up-to-date records from EHR systems outside of their own. Administrative staff in medical practices and healthcare facilities face the time-consuming task of tracking down and obtaining a patient’s previous files. And perhaps most importantly, a physician’s ability to properly diagnose and treat a patient in a timely manner is compromised when complete information or a complete medical history is not readily available.
It’s a systemic problem, but more patient involvement can help. Here are some ways medical offices can empower and motivate patients to take control of their medical records:
• Prepare and distribute a patient information sheet that clearly explains the process for requesting their records. Make sure patients know what they need to do and how long it will take so they can plan accordingly if they need a record for a specialist visit.
• Have patients sign a HIPAA release form that can be retained to avoid having to sign a new form with each request.
• Ask patients to provide or update their email address and sign a permission form allowing you to communicate with them via email.
• Interview front office staff to identify issues with the record release process and the types of issues causing delays so you can address them internally and expedite patient request processing.
• Survey patients about their record sharing and management needs and adjust your process accordingly. Try to get a feel for patients’ ability to manage digital files.
• Create a factsheet on the different types of secure document management apps available that patients can use to keep digital copies of their medical records safe and accessible.
• Consider asking patients if they would like a copy of their records emailed after each visit so they can begin compiling a digital archive of their records.
• Create a checklist for patients to organize their own process as they begin tracking their medical records. Add things like listing different doctors and specialists, adding dates of recent visits, lab test results, etc.
Regardless of the platform or user interface, the ability to share health records quickly, easily, and securely will have a tremendous impact on the future of the healthcare industry and its ability to improve patients’ lives.