NFL adopts EHRs

Players union makes the case for safety value of digital records
By Mike Miliard
12:00 AM

As the National Football League playoffs kick-off this month, there will be no shortage of excitement on the gridiron. There will also be one big difference taking place behind the scenes: The NFL will make the switch from paper to electronic health records.

On Nov. 19 it was announced that the league would contract with ambulatory vendor eClinicalWorks to serve 32 teams nationwide.

"The health and safety of our players continues to be our number one priority," Brian McCarthy, NFL's vice president of communications, told Healthcare IT News.

"We are continually improving everything we do to make the game safer, including rule changes, developing next-generation equipment, research and partnerships," he added. "Working with some of the leading companies in the world, such as eClinicalWorks, we want to provide team medical staff with the latest technology that will help with their care and treatment of players in real time at the team facility, in the locker room, on the sidelines. This solution will help medical staff with secure real-time information to make decisions that will benefit the player."

"The NFL prides itself in staying ahead of current healthcare developments," said Anthony Yates, MD, president of the NFL Physicians Society, in a statement. Yates, a physician at UPMC and team doctor for the Pittsburgh Steelers, is also a member of member of the EMR Committee for the NFL.

"We are always looking for innovative ways to enhance the organization," he said. "Electronic health records are the next logical step, and we look forward to partnering with eClinicalWorks on this initiative."

In fact, the NFL is required to move to digital health records, thanks to the collective bargaining agreement reached in 2011 with the players union, which called on the NFL to "develop and implement an online, 24-hour electronic medical record system." The deadline for implementation is August 2013.

Although owners initially opposed the move, the union eventually pressed the case that EHRs were a vital tool for protecting players' health and safety, according to an NFL Players Association official.

By implementing EHRs across the organization, the NFL is able to streamline processes between locations and coordinate care. All 32 teams will have access to the EHR system, which will be accessible at stadiums during games, on the sidelines and at the training facilities.

Girish Kumar Navani, CEO and co-founder of Westborough, Mass.-based eClinicalWorks, says this implementation has some similarities to certain other ambulatory EHR deployments.

"It's not very different in capabilities from an orthopedics and physical therapy clinic," he says. "eClinicalWorks has had orthopedic and physical therapy components within the EHR, so this will be the same system as we traditionally implement, with a few added features."

Still, Navani says, "extensive club visits" have led to the incorporation of some capabilities to the EHR that reflect "the uniqueness of the NFL."

One big difference? "In this implementation, there will be a direct video feed from the NFL for players, play-by-play, and we are integrating these feeds into the EHR," he says. "The League will be able to view video footage in the EHR of the injury occurring, which will help with treatment plans and follow-up once the player is off the field."

And, of course, there are other features necessary for an EHR tailored toward athletes playing a dangerous game, where injuries are common  -  and which has seen a marked increase in concern for the long-term effects of concussions and traumatic brain injury.

"The EHR will connect with labs, radiology, PACS imaging and a concussion app," says Navani.