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Special report: The confusing, promising world of EMR/EHR

by Diana Bradley , Staff Writer
This first appeared in the February 2012 issue of DOTmed HealthCare Business News

An unconscious woman arrives at a hospital emergency room. The doctor examines the patient and ascertains that she needs a blood thinner. He quickly checks the patient’s electronic medical record and sees that she has a history of a clotting disorder. Had the doctor administered a blood thinner, the patient would have died.

“This is one of numerous cases where users have told us, ‘I would have killed my patient today if I hadn’t used Practice Fusion,’” says Ryan Howard, founder and CEO of Practice Fusion, the fastest growing web-based EMR community in the U.S.

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American patients see 18.7 different doctors throughout their lives, which means the average patient’s health is dependent on at least 200 pieces of paper in almost 19 different locations, according to a survey conducted by research firm GfK Roper for Practice Fusion in April 2010. It comes as no surprise then, that each year there are 195,000 deaths in the U.S. because medical data is unavailable, says Howard. It is the aim of electronic health records and electronic medical records to bring this tragic trend to a grinding halt.

While digitalizing health records seems like a no-brainer at first glance, the way the market has misinterpreted EMRs and EHRs is enough to make anyone take pause. As defined by HIMSS Analytics in a 2006 white paper, an electronic medical record is a legal record created by hospitals and ambulatory environments. This acts as a data source for the electronic health record, under which all patients have one digitalized tracking report from birth to death, including information from every medical encounter the patient makes – from a visit to a specialist to a trip to the ER. Physicians have access to patient demographics, progress notes, ailments and medications, past medical history, immunizations, laboratory data and radiology reports, along with evidence-based decision support, quality management, and outcomes support. And patients have more access to their records and can see physicians’ updates in real time. Although EMRs and EHRs aren’t the same, these monikers are often used interchangeably by vendors, the press, the U.S. government and the health care industry, just to add to the confusion.

This lack of understanding may be why not everyone has opted to make the leap onto the proverbial digital health records bandwagon, suggests Howard.

“I think a lot of customers have never even seen an EMR,” he says. “They don’t really know what to expect and a lot of that comes down to the vendor to make sure the product has all the necessary functionality.”

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