If you’ve ever switched doctors, then you’ve probably endured the brain-racking process of trying to remember the names and dates of your last vaccinations, illnesses, medications and medical procedures.
You might have even wondered whether a record of your medical history should exist so past and future doctors would be able to quickly see pertinent facts about your health.
Well, electronic health records (EHRs) could be a solution to this problem.
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EHRs are still relatively new in doctors’ offices: According to a December report by the Centers for Disease Control, more than a quarter of doctors are still using paper, and most doctors who are using EHRs are relatively new at it—two years ago, only a third of doctors used EHRs. And adopting them is different from really taking advantage of them: Only one in six doctors is using them to a significant extent, even though doing so makes a physician eligible for a $44,000 bonus (spread out over five years) from the federal government.
Whether or not your doctors are currently using them, you should know more about how best to use them for your own personal health, because they are likely to be adopted by more physicians. By 2015, doctors not using EHRs will be subject to penalties.
Before you get excited about the day when you won’t have to remember your health history, we have to warn you that many EHRs don’t yet communicate with each other, so, at the moment, we’re still stuck with having to inform new doctors of our medical histories.
We’ll give you the rundown on the potential benefits of EHRs, how they work right now and what you should do in the meantime to organize your personal health record.
The Push to Create Electronic Health Records
While EHRs could make it unnecessary for you to remember all the important information in your medical history, they also promise a whole host of other benefits—many of them that could improve your treatment and, by extension, your health. They could:
- Make it easier for different health care providers to coordinate care, thereby increasing the continuity of your care no matter which doctor or facility you are visiting and improving physician decision-making—especially in emergency situations
- Help prevent medical errors and the duplication of treatments and procedures
- Cut administrative costs and clerical errors
- Help collect standardized data that could be used in research for medical techniques, technologies and drugs
- Give patients and their families more complete information that can help inform their health decisions
- Warn doctors and patients of potentially dangerous drug interactions
- Ensure that pharmacists provide the proper dosage of a drug that was prescribed
Indeed, studies of some health care providers that have adopted EHRs already show not only these benefits but also cost savings. For instance, researchers at the Center for IT Leadership found that the Department of Veterans Affairs, which was an early adopter of EHRs, found that the savings just from preventing adverse drug reactions totaled $4.64 billion.