Technology changes fast, but is it fast enough to keep up with the healthcare industry?
That’s the question that Dr. Travis Good from Datica asks in his article, “The Rise and Fall of EHR.”
According to Dr. Good, Electronic Healthcare Records (EHRs) weren’t built for the future. One of the main issues, he believes, is that EHR systems can’t meet the demands of the patients.
He argues that consumerism, government healthcare rulings, and technology costs could all spell doom for the EHR system if it’s not properly integrated, maintained and updated for the future.
Is Dr. Good right? Is the technology to manage healthcare data outdated already?
Yes and no.
While the technology has been slowly implemented, and some progress has been made to help clinics get up to speed, there are still some kinks in the system that need to be ironed out.
Here’s what to know about the future of EHR technology in your practice.
Why EHR Systems Become Outdated Quickly
The move to electronic records has been in the works for several years.
In 2009, Congress passed the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act to address some of the biggest objections to implementing EHR and aid healthcare professionals in making the transition from paper to digital.
In 2008, only 17% of physicians and 9% of hospitals had at least a basic EHR system in place. In 2015, 96% and 78%, respectively, reported using EHR.
In a 2016 report on the HITECH Act, The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology noted that IT adoption in the healthcare industry was about more than just switching to paper records, saying:
“The rapid adoption of health IT has facilitated increased use of functionalities that have real-world clinical impacts.”
They believe that health IT (in the form of EHR) has improved communication among healthcare providers and has also improved the exchange of healthcare information on the whole.
But not everyone agrees.
Dr. Good argues that because EHRs weren’t built with the future of technology in mind, as soon as an EHR system is implemented, it’s outdated.
The problem is that in order for EHR systems to keep pace with the changing IT landscape, they need to be hosted in the cloud, where they can be frequently updated and maintained.
It’ll be years before major healthcare enterprises fully adopt and move the majority of [EHR technology] to the cloud,” Good says. And that can be a problem.
How Vendors and “The Cloud” Impact EHR
Many EHR vendors have moved to using the cloud to support their EHR systems.
But that still doesn’t solve the problem entirely.
Many healthcare practices still manage their healthcare records in-house, either on their own server or by using a remote desktop to share information.
The problem is that a remote desktop connection can leave data vulnerable to cyber theft.
In-house EHR systems also need to be frequently maintained in order to prevent data breaches from occurring.
Not every healthcare practice has an IT specialist around to make sure the systems are updated. Because of this, it’s difficult to catch data breaches, protect privacy, and update systems over time.
This means that even though most healthcare practices are using EHR in some form, not all of them are using the latest and best technology to protect their data.
The alternative is to either host your EHR system in the cloud yourself (which, as mentioned, can be challenging if you don’t already have an IT specialist at your disposal), or to hire a vendor who is already using cloud-based technology.
The upside to using third-party vendors is that they can dedicate resources to keep up with the latest cybersecurity best practices.
This allows clinics to use the best EHR technology without having to worry about a data breach.
But Dr. Good argues that this isn’t always the best choice for healthcare practices because vendors can charge “hefty fees for interfaces and data access.”
How Practices Can Keep Up with EHR Technology
So what’s the best solution for practices looking to keep up with EHR technology?
The most obvious choice is to update to the latest EHR software available.
For many practices, however, this is easier said than done. Upgrading entire EHR systems can be time consuming and, in some cases, cost prohibitive.
But the costs of a data breach can far outweigh the costs of maintaining and upgrading your EHR system.
The alternative to updating your EHR is to switch to a cloud-based system and choose a vendor that has reasonable prices on hosting through the cloud.
“Most of the new guard of health IT will be cloud based and not on-premise,” Dr. Good believes.
Many EHR vendors are beginning to realize just how important their roles are when it comes to keeping patient data secure and affordable.
You can also focus on other digital technology that integrates with your EHR system, like using electronic intake forms and patient portals to add functionality to your EHR without needing to migrate your whole system.
Dr. Good predicts that it will be at least 10-15 years before EHR technology is fully implemented in a way that benefits all parties involved, but that the integration process is a start.
By taking advantage of the current technology available, you can make use of EHR in its current form and, hopefully, in its future evolution too.
While EHR systems are certainly a leap forward for healthcare data over paper forms, they are far from perfect.
Because EHR wasn’t necessarily designed with the future in mind, it may cause headaches for many practices who want to use it moving forward.
The key to using EHR technology is to upgrade to the most current system, if possible. If not, then looking for third-party vendors who have access to cloud-based technology at lower costs is an alternative.
You can also integrate your current EHR with other health IT technology to give it more functionality.
But above all, it’s important that healthcare providers understand the benefits of EHR, what the upkeep of a system might cost compared to a full upgrade, the time it takes to transition fully, and how cloud-based technology can help.
For more information on EHR technology, check out HealthIT.gov’s certification guidance for EHR.