Advancing the Future of Health Care with Electronic Health Records

By David Blumenthal, MD
09:12 AM

Last week, we took great steps forward in bringing America’s health records into the 21st century. Widespread and meaningful use of fully functional electronic health record systems combined with a robust infrastructure for broad-based health information exchange can improve the quality, safety, and efficiency of health care for all Americans.

As more organizations adopt electronic health records, physicians will have greater access to patient information, allowing faster and more accurate diagnoses. Complete patient data helps ensure the best possible care.

Patients too will have access to their own information and will have the choice to share it with family members securely, over the Internet, to better coordinate care for themselves and their loved ones.

Digital medical records make it possible to improve quality of patient care in numerous ways. For example, doctors can make better clinical decisions with ready access  to full medical histories for their patients—including new patients, returning patients, or patients who see several different providers. Laboratory tests or x-rays downloaded and stored in the patient’s electronic health record make it easier to track results. Automatic alerts built into the systems direct attention to possible drug interactions or warning signs of serious health conditions. E-prescribing lets doctors send prescriptions electronically to the pharmacy, so medications can be ready and waiting for the patient.

And while electronic health records require an initial investment of time and money, clinicians who have implemented them have reported saving money in the long term. With the efficiencies that electronic health records promise, their widespread use has the potential to result in significant  cost savings across our health care system.

The future looks bright, but the vision can’t become reality without first laying a firm foundation.

Helping us in this endeavor are the providers, software developers, health care administrators, patients, and others on the frontlines of health care. We talked with them about their experiences and expectations of health IT. We heard their aspirations and their reservations.   Our commitment to ensure privacy and security of electronic health records and health information exchange will remain at the forefront of all our efforts.  We are confident that what we’ve learned from these ongoing conversations will lead to the development of a structure designed to support and improve health care in this country.

The final rules recently released are the blueprints for that structure. The standards and certification final rule, released on July 13, 2010, helps ensure that certified electronic health records will have the capabilities necessary to achieve our goals. And now, with the release of the final rule for the meaningful use of electronic health records, we have a plan for how those capabilities can lead to better health care.

These rules are not an end in and of themselves, but provide us with a plan for the future.

I recognize the challenges and obstacles before us. Fundamental changes are difficult to undertake but I saw the difference an EHR made in my practice and I can clearly see where meaningful use of health information technology can take us.

Now that we have the foundation in place and the blueprints in hand, I encourage you to continue  your electronic health record adoption and implementation efforts so we can transform our vision into reality.

 

Dr. David Blumenthal, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology blogs regularly at Health IT Buzz.