Electronic health records (EHRs) are simply described as an electronic version of your paper medical record, but with important distinctions. EHRs can contain information from all your medical interactions—test results, X-ray images, medications—across multiple doctors and locations, rather than just separate records for each doctor you see.

How data helps

With the appropriate security in place, your EHR can be shared among your doctors, local hospitals and emergency departments, or with specialists to whom you might be referred. Perhaps the most important function of your EHR is that it can reduce the possibility of medical errors and actually improve patient safety.

Studies have shown that EHRs help to improve the quality and efficiency of health care by making your information more available quicker, more accurate and more secure than paper records. And having that information at hand helps you and your doctors make more informed decisions about your care. In fact, in a 2013 National Ambulatory Medical Care Physician Workflow Survey, 3 out of 4 physicians reported that their EHRs helped them avoid medication errors with features that compare patients’ current medications with newly ordered medicines.

“...3 out of 4 physicians reported that their EHRs helped them avoid medication errors with features that compare patients’ current medications with newly ordered medicines.”

How data helps doctors

The same survey shows that EHRs help improve communications among your doctors and others involved in your care: nurses, physical therapists, pharmacists and specialists. When they all have online access to your complete, current clinical information, better decisions can be made and those decisions are communicated to your entire care team in real-time.

Along with features that automatically check for potential drug and food allergies, EHRs also remind your doctor when it’s time for routine screenings like mammograms and colonoscopies, and provide alerts if a doctor orders a medication that will interact with another medication you’re taking. It just makes sense that the use of these systems is growing rapidly in hospitals and physicians’ offices across the U.S.

Patient safety is “job one,” as the saying goes—not just for physicians and nurses, but for government officials who are working to advance the use of EHRs, as well as technology companies that design these mission-critical systems. Together, we are working to help health care providers deliver safer care for all Americans.