Using an Academic EHR in a health professions curriculum

By Stephen Burrows
08:22 AM

With the recent explosion in the use of technology in healthcare, preparing students who are in clinical programs for the leap into the preverbal technology pool is essential to their success.

There is no doubt that they will encounter electronic health records in use during their training and after entering their chosen profession. To ensure adequate preparation occurs, health professions faculty must have the appropriate tools available. This has become an easier task with the advent of Academic Electronic Health Records (EHR).

An Academic EHR is essentially an adapted version a clinical information system used in acute care and ambulatory facilities with modifications that customize the product for the needs of academic institutions.

Creating this environment for learning provides students a non-threatening approach to interacting with Healthcare Information Technology (HIT) while learning discipline-specific content and processes that they will use once they begin taking care of patients.

An interactive approach to learning the technology includes viewing patient clinical documentation, viewing results (lab, diagnostic imaging, reports, etc.), performing chart reviews, order management, medication administration and reconciliation, and developing plans of care. It is through these and other learning activities that the student begins to use evidence-based clinical practices, critical-thinking skills, and data-driven decision making.

Vendors who are offering this product have essentially taken an EHR with all of the features and functionality and added elements to be used by health professions faculty.

A number of vendors have taken a product typically sold to hospitals and made modifications to include elements focused on the clinical students. This familiarizes the student with a product that is currently in use at sites where they may complete their clinical rotations or may end up working.

A different approach is to develop a product that has the educational arena at its core mission and is designed with faculty and students at the center. NEEHR Perfect (networked educational electronic health record system) by Archetype Innovations is one such option. Taking the open-source VistA (currently used throughout the VAMC system) as a template, the developers have designed their EHR specifically for education and have been developing the product with the student in mind.  

Kathleen Annala, RN, FNP-BC, company co-founder and president, says an Academic EHR, “gives students immersive hands-on clinical experiences in interprofessional patient care.”

As an industry, healthcare is moving towards a tightly integrated, multi-disciplinary approach to medicine. Because Academic EHRs function like a real EHR, any healthcare discipline can use them in an academic setting. These products provide students with the tools to introduce to them to the concept of interdisciplinary team collaboration and prepare them for participating in collaborative efforts.

Participating with their fellow students in other disciplines around these types of exercises fulfills the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) recommended changes to healthcare curricula for interdisciplinary collaboration and to development of skills critical to delivering evidence-based care.

With the world of HIT in constant flux, it is critical to keep students up-to-date on technology being used in healthcare systems. Integrating an Academic EHR system into the curriculum is essential to their success.

Stephen Burrows, DPM, is Chair & Program Director of Healthcare Information Systems at Sacred Heart University’s College of Health Professions.