Jean Robillard / Guest Editorial
Technology influences so many aspects of our modern world, continually transforming our daily lives and the way we communicate. One example of technology’s reach in the health-care arena is the electronic health record (EHR), which has benefits for patients, health care organizations, as well as employers and other payers.
An EHR is a collection of electronic health information about individual patients capable of being shared in digital format across different health care settings. It may include a range of data from demographics and medical history, to laboratory test results and billing information—but, most importantly, it allows information sharing among a variety of health-care providers and organizations involved in a patient’s care, from doctors and nurses to diagnostic imaging facilities to laboratories and pharmacies. This can greatly enhance the coordination of care for patients as they navigate through different health care settings.
While an EHR is useful on many levels, its ability to assist providers in exchanging and using information is extremely important for patients in the Corridor and across the state of Iowa. Patients often express frustration with the ‘paper shuffling’ that occurs during routine transitions of care and they desire information to be shared more freely and seamlessly.
Patients also want easier access to their personal health records, something many commercial EHRs are able to provide. From the comfort of home, software applications allow patients the opportunity to view test results, access medical records, request prescription renewals, request or change appointments, communicate with health providers and find helpful tips and other trusted medical information.
Beyond the benefit to individual patients, one of the greatest benefits to Iowans is the collaboration and connectivity EHRs facilitate for health-care organizations throughout the state and beyond. These systems are configured to help optimize operational efficiencies, enhance patient safety, eliminate unnecessary expenses and provide easier communications between providers.
Many EHR systems are built to “talk” to compatible EHR systems at other health-care institutions to facilitate the secure, appropriate flow of clinical information. Four years ago, UI Health Care implemented its own electronic health record and order entry system, called Epic. Since that time, UI Health Care has begun hosting Epic for other rural critical access hospitals, such as Van Buren County Hospital in Keosauqua, allowing them to run advanced clinical systems that they could not support on their own.
As changes occur in the way health care is delivered, EHRs can also help manage different patient populations. For example, with the launch of the joint UI Health Care and Mercy-Cedar Rapids Medicare Accountable Care Organization, care and information sharing for patients served under this new model for population health management will be optimized.
Additionally, the Health Information Exchange (HIE) program, a federal effort embraced by the state of Iowa to promote innovative approaches to the secure exchange of health information within and across states, works to enhance care delivery and ensure that health-care providers and hospitals meet national standards and meaningful use requirements that will help them qualify for Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs. Awardees of the HIE program are responsible for increasing connectivity and enabling patient-centered information flow to improve the quality and efficiency of care. Thanks to its Epic capabilities and infrastructure, UI Health Care is positioned as one of the first institutions to connect into the state HIE this summer.
The use of a robust EHR also provides many opportunities to support clinical research. Researchers can extract relevant clinical data from the EHR for patients who consent to participate in research studies, and analyze that data across a large number of similar patients. This data allows the researcher to better understand how specific clinical treatments can impact the patient’s outcome. Once the researchers understand which treatments yield the best results, they can share this information with physicians who can optimize their clinical decisions.
EHRs are transforming the way patient care is delivered and the way patient information is shared among health-care providers and with patients. Here in Iowa, EHRs are already helping organizations make better decisions, achieve improvements in patient safety and quality of care and provide more coordinated care for the patients they serve.
Jean Robillard is vice president for medical affairs with University of Iowa Health Care.