To comply with Meaningful Use initiatives, more than 95 percent of hospitals have implemented some form of electronic health record (EHR) system since 2011. Some have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to simply comply and put a system in place, while others have spent millions – even billions – to tailor a program unique to their needs.
The truth is EHRs are expensive to plan for, implement, train and maintain. And today, only a few years after installing new systems, nearly 38 percent of CIOs are already investing in optimization projects to improve or upgrade their current EHR programs, making this the biggest area of spending in healthcare IT.
While EHR provides many answers and solutions, it presents many questions, as well.
• What is the ROI for this massive technology upgrade?
• How will EHRs really improve healthcare for doctors and patients?
• What does the future of EHRs look like?
These questions and others are being considered and tested at hospitals around the country. Here are some of the more innovative practices and uses for EHRs that may help hospitals and executives plan for the road ahead and get the most out of their EHR investment.
Gathering big data from a patient population is one thing. Deciphering and applying that data to solve real-world health issues is another. Hospitals that are successfully doing this are finding it is a game-changer for helping patients, the community and their care outcomes.
• Identifying at-risk or high-risk patients to help reduce readmission rates: This data analysis looks at EHR information, zip codes and socioeconomic data to assign patients a risk score. This can also include monitoring patients with numerous chronic diseases (diabetes, heart failure, cholesterol, cancer, etc.) in real-time to help reduce hospitalizations and drive down the cost of care.
• Clinical trial enrollment: Using big data could help patients enroll in clinical trials that will help improve quality of care and enhance outcomes. For patients, this helps match them to clinical trials and have access to safety monitoring during the treatment. For healthcare providers/researchers, this means having the data they need to find patients for trials and evaluate therapies.
A technology that has been talked about and hypothesized for decades is now at its tipping point and gaining the attention of healthcare executives across the industry. More than 83 percent of telemedicine executives who were surveyed in 2017 by the American Telemedicine Association said they are likely to invest in telehealth this year. And more importantly, they see patient-centered healthcare and EHR interoperability as top advancements they are most excited about.
Using EHR systems to treat patients with telehealth can reduce the cost of the care for both patients and providers. This technology allows doctors to stay more organized, save time, log into the patient’s record from anywhere, and prescribe medication in real time.
• Remote patient monitoring for issues such as weight gain in at-risk heart patients. One of the biggest readmission rates for heart attack patients occurs when they start to gain weight. By using monitoring devices, doctors can receive weight readings every day allowing them to track patients’ health and have an idea of risk for readmission.
• Doctors, hospitals and nurses are using telemedicine to treat children at school. This type of visit includes a nurse at school using a telehealth cart with video capabilities and high-tech ear, nose and throat scopes to communicate with a pediatric doctor or hospital staff for a remote patient visit. Parents can video in on the visit from work, allowing children to stay in school, parents to stay at work and nurses/doctors to best assess the child. It also allows children who do not have access to health care to see a doctor without going to the ER, further reducing overall healthcare costs for hospitals and patients.
• Treating at-risk patients with numerous chronic conditions remotely with telehealth. Hospitals can track at-risk patients through their physiological data remotely with biometric sensors. This data can track everything from weight and heart rate to blood pressure and oxygen saturation. This information allows the team to provide remote support and communicate with patients at important times. The pilot program at Banner Health reduced hospitalizations by 45 percent and drove down the overall cost of care by 27 percent.
Enabling patients to access their own EHRs has shown great promise in helping them take control and engage in their overall wellbeing as well as helping providers prioritize patients’ concerns. The practice of allowing patients to collaborate on EHR notes and help set the agenda for their appointment has shown to improve communication between the patient and the provider, increase patient satisfaction, decrease visit times for doctors and optimize the appointment.
• A University of Washington pilot study of patients setting agendas for their appointments found that most patients and clinicians felt it enhanced their relationships, and most said they would like to continue the practice. Also, patients who created their own agenda for the visit gave the doctor a more collaborative feeling and increased patient engagement – a key component of accountable care organizations and patient-centered medical homes under the Affordable Care Act.
• An OpenNotes study found that by reviewing their medical records and clinician notes, patients could spot safety concerns (usually pertaining to medication errors or misreported pre-existing health conditions), and many of the flagged reports were turned into medical record revisions. The findings suggest that patients can help identify mistakes and are eager to have accurate medical records on file.
These are only a few examples of how EHRs are being implemented and used by providers and patients. The truth is that this technology is constantly morphing and evolving to help improve healthcare treatments and outcomes across the board. Clearly, there is an inherent need for healthcare executives, doctors and patients to find more valuable uses for EHRs to enhance patient care, improve outcomes and save costs.
Furthermore, what’s most critical to the evolving world of EHRs is that you have the right partners at the table to help educate, train and effectively adapt this technology to your unique needs. This includes your vendors, IT department, doctors, nurses and users.
Finally, the financial burden of improving and updating your EHR system will be a consistent line item for the foreseeable future. Knowing how to budget and prepare for those costs is vital to the financial success of your organization. And working with a banking partner who understands the complex world of healthcare finance is just as important.
Richard Ziegner is director of healthcare banking at UMB Bank where he is responsible for leading the bank’s efforts in the healthcare sector and providing capital and financial solutions to healthcare providers. He can be reached at Richard.Ziegner@umb.com.