Family Health Magazine - FAMILY MEDICINE
Electronic Medical Records
Computers have advantages for both doctors and patients
Everywhere today, we use computer devices to assist us with our tasks. Whether it be having an oil change, withdrawing money, buying dinner or shoes, or forecasting weather, computers are key in supporting work and recording information. It is no surprise that many doctors and other health care providers are using computers to help with patient care.
While visiting your doctor, you may now notice a computer in the exam room. Perhaps your doctor carries a mobile computer rather than a paper chart. Many doctors are moving from paper to electronic charting. These charts are often referred to as electronic medical records, or EMRs.
The EMR protects charts with usernames and passwords. It records who has accessed a chart and when, providing both security and privacy. The audit trail can also ensure that questionable access to a patient chart can be investigated.
The EMR replaces the paper patient chart. A computer system now stores the same information, including the patient’s name, address, birth date, lab test results, and previous illnesses and injuries. Notes made by doctors, medications, allergy history and other information the family doctor may need is listed in the EMR. Doctors are able to quickly find needed information without having to thumb through mounds of paper.
Advantages of the EMR
EMRs provide many advantages for both doctor and patient.
- Doctors are often said to have poor writing skills. An EMR allows notes taken by the doctor to be read easily. Pharmacists do not need to call the doctor’s office as often to check what has been written, since prescriptions are now clearly printed.
- Unlike with paper charts, many doctors show patients the computer screen as they type information. Patients are more able to discuss and know the information being captured. Being able to see what is recorded helps the relationship between doctor and patient.
- Doctors can use the EMR to draw graphs from growth measurements or test results. Such graphs are easily read and show the patient’s progress over time. Electronic graphs allow input of various data along with an opportunity to discuss trends and possible results.
- The EMR allows patient information to be held in a central database. Storing data electronically allows doctors to ask questions and gather information easily. When a doctor asks a question of the EMR, the system scans volumes of data and provides answers with little time and effort.
- A doctor at a medium-size clinic described a recall of a blood pressure medication by Health Canada. He used the EMR to list all of the patients taking that medication. Within minutes, a report was completed, letting him know who had been prescribed this drug. His office was able to contact everyone within a day to tell them to stop taking it. In the past, staff needed days to sift through all the patient charts to find those taking the medication.
- Paper charts are at risk of being damaged or destroyed by vandalism, fire, water or acts of nature. With properly backed-up and stored electronic files, doctors and patients have greater security and are better able to recover from disaster.
- Privacy is always a concern for both the patient and the doctor. The EMR provides a better environment to protect privacy than the paper chart system. Paper charts are often located behind the check-in desk or in a storage room. There is no way to record who has seen a specific chart. In contrast, the EMR protects charts with usernames and passwords. It records who has accessed a chart and when, providing both security and privacy. The audit trail can also ensure that questionable access to a patient chart can be investigated.
- An EMR allows the doctor to access medical information that will help in making quick, sound decisions at the time of the exam. The doctor does not need to leave the room to look up information in a reference book. The patient does not have to wait around while the doctor does research. Having clinical information at the fingertip helps speed decision-making about treatment plans for patients.
As well, the EMRs have programs that alert doctors if they prescribe a medication that may react badly with other medications or with known allergies. Such alerts mean fewer errors and increased patient safety.
- Most dentists, veterinarians, optometrists, and even car care experts send out notices when another appointment is advised. The EMR can provide reminders for those with diabetes who need monthly blood glucose checks, or for women who have regular pap tests. With the busy schedules of most doctors and patients, such reminders ensure patients receive the care they need.
- Sometimes we must visit an emergency room or another doctor. Many people are surprised to find that their health information is not at this other location. Without it, they are often required to go through the same tests that were recently done for their family doctor. They must provide their personal information and medical history again. Other care providers cannot currently access your doctor’s EMR. However, having patient information captured electronically may allow the future exchange of information between different facilities and providers. Both the health care system and patients would benefit from not having to repeat tests.
- Sharing information could also help health care providers know of any current medications a patient is taking. Doctors and nurses joke about the patient who arrives and says he takes a pink pill, a little blue pill and a big white pill. Such information is not very helpful! If attending doctors could see key patient information held in the EMR, diagnosis and treatment of patients could be quicker. When a patient is unconscious, such records are particularly essential.
The future of EMRs
The EMR is often compared with the banking industry. The major difference is that the banking industry has been refining the systems that collect client data for decades. It has also invested large amounts of money. EMRs in Canada are still in the early stage. As well, information collected in an EMR can be much more complex than the transaction information captured by the bank.
In the future, we expect that an EMR will be able to receive and share electronic information from many external sources. Currently, many doctors who have EMRs receive patient lab results electronically. Doctors are able to quickly review results. If they must see the patient chart, they can access it within seconds rather than going to the chart room to pull it. Eventually electronic reports from the radiologist will be delivered to the EMRs. All of this allows administrative time of doctors to be freed, so more time can be spent on patient care, learning new medical technology, or enjoying life.
Many doctors say it is hard to learn how to use the EMR at first. However, once they have adapted to the EMR, they would not give it up. It is great to have information at your fingertips. Doctors would like to have more information delivered electronically, as patient information would be located in one spot and easy to search. Medical staff now spend much time scanning information from other sources into electronic charts. This time could be used for other tasks that would help both patient and doctor.
The EMR is a key part of the future of our health care. Today, we cannot afford for doctors to spend time looking for information or locating lost paper charts. The technology revolution in health care requires doctors to have quick access to information. The EMR can help deliver high-quality patient care in today’s very demanding environment.
As with any new technology, implementing change takes time and money. Most provinces are investigating EMR systems but, inevitably, it may be several years before EMR systems are actively in place in all Canadian provinces. Regardless, if your doctor is among these using EMRs, now you’ll understand the benefits for your doctor and, more importantly, your good health.
While effort is made to reflect accepted medical knowledge and practice, articles in Family Health Online should not be relied upon for the treatment or management of any specified medical problem or concern and Family Health accepts no liability for reliance on the articles. For proper diagnosis and care, you should always consult your family physician promptly. © Copyright 2015, Family Health Magazine, a special publication of the Edmonton Journal, a division of Postmedia Network Inc., 10006 - 101 Street, Edmonton, AB T5J 2S6 [FM_FHd06]