With implementations past critical mass, AHIMA takes stock

Are EHRs at a 'tipping point'?

By Mike Miliard
10:56 AM
Are EHRs at a 'tipping point'?

With more than 50 percent of practices and 80 percent of hospitals having adopted electronic health records and attested for meaningful use by now, it's time to talk about next steps.

The March edition of the Journal of AHIMA does just that, with a story that looks at the changes and challenges ahead for health information management professionals as EHRs become a fact of life.

“We have reached a tipping point in adoption of electronic health records,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Sebelius in May 2013. “More than half of eligible professionals and 80 percent of eligible hospitals have adopted these systems, which are critical to modernizing our health care system.”

Now that the plumbing has been installed, the next step is making the water flow.

Or, as the article's author Mary Butler finds, perhaps telecommunications offers a better analogy.

"If you buy a telephone, it’s only as good as the other people who have telephones and can call," Judy Murphy, RN, deputy national coordinator for programs and policy at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT tells AHIMA. "One of the things we’re doing with getting EHRs installed is that we’re setting up the capabilities and electronically exchanging the information so we can create a patient-centric record.”

But that's easier said that done, Butler argues.

"Even with telecommunications, where cell phone adoption is broad, problems linger," she writes. "Dropped calls plague even the most robust cellular network providers, and coverage in vast swaths of rural areas can be spotty. When users outgrow or want to upgrade their phone before their contract ends, the costs are high."

Those issues – interoperability challenges, implementation failures, geographic discrepancies in IT adoption, provider frustration with underperforming systems – are all explored by AHIMA as it puts EHR adoption numbers in perspective and looks ahead toward the challenges of data exchange and patient-centered care.

As Butler puts it, "Although use of EHRs has reached critical mass, they’ll be in tweaking mode for a long time."

Key to making sure those tweaks are the right ones – and achieve the desired effects of better care for more people at lower costs – are health information management pros, who can and should have a place at the table helping clinicians optimize the use of clinical data, according to AHIMA.

"The heavy adoption of EHRs by providers is a significant milestone, one that can contribute to improved patient outcomes at reduced costs," said AHIMA CEO Lynne Thomas Gordon in a press statement. "HIM professionals will play an important role in realizing the efficiencies offered by interoperable EHRs, and a key component will be establishing information governance principles to ensure the information is accurate, appropriately accessible and actionable."

Read the Journal of AHIMA story here.

[See also: New to-do lists loom for 'post-EHR era']