You probably noticed a computer in the exam room on recent visits to your doctor’s office or to the hospital. About 95 percent of hospitals and nearly 80 percent of office-based physicians use one.

What’s in an EHR?

The results they provide are about more than just writing more legible prescriptions. EHRs offer a multitude of benefits to both clinicians and patients, helping to improve the quality and efficiency of health care services:

  • Accurate information is accessible quickly to caregivers, patients and their families.

  • EHRs prompt busy doctors with key patient information such as test results, medication allergies or recommended preventive procedures.

  • Clinical reminders present care guidelines to help doctors make the right diagnostic and treatment decisions.

  • EHRs are more secure than paper records, which can be stolen or misfiled. Despite the occasional news of systems being “hacked,” EHRs have robust safeguards to track unauthorized access and keep health information secure.

  • Time spent looking for paper records and waiting for test results or information that could be important for your care is virtually eliminated, so your health care team has more time to spend with you.

Long-term offerings

More than a computerized version of the paper record, these sophisticated systems compile the medical information from each encounter you have with doctors and hospitals, ensuring that those who take care of you are looking at the same updated information before determining treatment options.

Even beyond these benefits, EHRs are fundamental to transforming our health care system, as the country shifts away from a focus on the quantity of patients seen and toward payments based on the quality of care delivered.

"EHRs provide great benefit to the public by collecting data on disease patterns and infectious disease outbreaks so that local hospitals and can be prepared to care for large numbers of patients in a short period of time. "

EHR companies are actively working with hospitals, doctors, and government agencies to make sure that EHRs are easy to use and capable of sharing information securely. Multiple new innovations are being used to support coordination among doctors and other care providers, accurately measure quality, offer telemedicine technologies to provide remote access for patients in rural areas and store genomic information to ensure that the care offered is customized to each individual patient.

For example, you may have read recently about “precision medicine,” an emerging approach for personalized disease prevention and treatment that considers variability in genes, environment and lifestyle. By collecting all of this information, and through linkages to other health information technology, EHRs play an important role in this initiative.

Making it personal

EHRs also can provide information to your personal health record (PHR), a tool often provided by your doctor or insurance company to allow you access to your information and engage in the management of your health. This is particularly important for patients with chronic diseases that require close monitoring and follow-up. EHRs play another important role in supporting clinical trials, which are used to evaluate new medical and drug treatments, by alerting doctors to trials that might benefit their patients.

EHRs provide great benefit to the general public by collecting and reporting data on disease patterns and infectious disease outbreaks so that local hospitals and doctors can be prepared to care for large numbers of patients in a short period of time. And in the event of a disaster, such as Hurricane Katrina, critical medical information can be shared with health care centers locally or in other communities where patients may receive care.

The period of transformation in which we find ourselves in health care has prompted rapid information technology evolution, and this means that clinical information systems, patient engagement tools and health information exchange solutions are in the midst of exciting innovation. This is offering great benefit to patients and providers alike, as more information becomes available through every step of the health care process.