Last month, lost in the hubbub over the future of the Affordable Care Act and stock trades, there was an interesting exchange between Tom Price, M.D., and the senators who were key to considering his nomination as the head of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Estimating EHRs

During his hearings, Price was asked about the impact that the Meaningful Use program and, by extension, electronic health records (EHRS) have on physician productivity. While Price argued for reassessing the Meaningful Use program, something he championed in the House of Representatives, he also declared EHRs an important part of today’s delivery system.

“Electronic health records are so important because, from an innovation standpoint, they allow the patient to have their health history with them at all times and … whatever physician or provider to have access to that,” Price declared. He clarified to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee: “We in the federal government have a role in that, but that role ought to be interoperability — to make sure the different systems can talk to each other, so it inures to the benefit of the patient.”

Price also spoke to the value of telemedicine, calling it an “exciting innovation” and “absolutely vital.”

How things are changing

Politically, many aspects of health care are headed into unknown territory. But with health IT, we can build off of the sentiment of Price’s statements and look at the big picture. We’ve spent more than a decade constructing the foundation of a digitized health care system, and in many corners of the nation, we are seeing the fruits of that labor.

“These are a select number of the many positive strides being made to improve patient care.”

Consider Tenet Healthcare’s IMPACT program, Improving Patient Care Through Technology, which is focused on ensuring the right information gets to the right caregiver at the right time. By streamlining clinical documentation, Tenet has also given valuable time back to nurses so they can spend more time at the bedside. Carolinas HealthCare System, another great example, uses telemedicine to conduct virtual psychiatric visits, as well as provide care for stroke and other complicated conditions in rural communities.

Another successful case can be found at the University of Colorado Hospital. In 2015 they deployed a cloud-based, predictive analytics tool that tapped into scheduling data from the EHR and led to dramatic cuts in wait times at a busy infusion center — 15 percent overall and 33 percent during peak hours. All of this while daily volume rose 7 percent. The changes also spurred higher patient satisfaction scores and enabled the hospital to trim staff overtime by 20 hours per month.

The University of Missouri Health Care, meanwhile, made a subtle, yet important tweak to its EHR that resulted in better discharge instructions for patients on blood thinner medication. By adding an outpatient warfarin management order to the patient’s discharge summary, the health system nearly doubled the percentage of patient charts — 78 percent up from 42 percent — that now include critical elements of warfarin management. This has reduced confusion among patients and clinicians as they go over discharge instructions.

These are a select number of the many positive strides being made to improve patient care. By spreading these best practices through educational awareness, we can transform care for the better.