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EHRs – Are we There Yet?


EHR adoption growth over the last decade has been phenomenal. Driven by government incentive programs, rising volume of patients and documentation as well as the problems which plague paper filing systems, EHR use has long since passed the tipping point. Today no one is surprised to find computers at their dentist’s office or to see doctors in front of a monitor typing away.

When EHRs first arrived on the scene, providers and even CMS made quite a few promises. EHRs would make healthcare providers more efficient and help them reduce the time spent in paperwork. It promised a world where patients get better care without adding undue burden on medical professionals. It may be time to check how many -or if any – of those promises have become reality.

Are we There Yet?

With the vast majority of practices and hospitals adopting EHRs, it is reasonable to ask if we’ve finally reached the destination. However, it’s important to define what we mean first. If the number of dentists using an EHR was the sole criteria for measuring success, well we are certainly there. If we go by the sales figures from vendors, EHRs have never had it so good. But that isn’t really our goal is it?

While quite a few dentists have embraced EHRs wholeheartedly, most still view it as an obstacle in some form or other. Maybe it’s the transition away from years of using paper. Or the difficulty of converting existing records into electronic format. Many clinics have also found that employees need regular training on the new systems before they become comfortable using them. Hospitals are so bogged down with everyday issues that they don’t have time to focus on the big picture with EHRs.

So where are we when it comes to EHR use? Most industry experts agree that the healthcare industry might be somewhere in the middle. We are still in the early stages of trying to integrate EHRs with other hospital systems. Doctors and nurses have gotten used to relying on EHRs for daily use but practices still don’t use them strategically. Most clinics don’t leverage the extensive reporting functions in the EHR. We still tend to view EHRs as a simple upgrade to good old pen and paper when in reality, it is capable of so much more.

Where do we Need to Go?

We have a long way to go before EHRs start becoming strategic tools for the healthcare industry. For example, the large volumes of data in EHRs can be used to improve the effectiveness of drug trials in many ways. Patient selection by certain criteria, tracking symptoms, monitoring prescription adherence are just a few processes that can become more efficient with help from EHRs.

Clinics also need to take advantage of the reporting functions that are included by default in practically every EHR today. Do you know how many patients have not yet paid their bills? How many claims are still being processed, holding up payment? Knowing the answers to these questions can help you improve revenue numbers. Online appointment scheduling can help you fill chairs when a patient cancels unexpectedly. You can use reminders to ensure that patients don’t miss annual checkups or follow up visits.

You can use EHR data to monitor patient compliance with medication and appointments. Unlock the power of your data to provide better care for patients. Over the long term, practices should also consider using EHRs in other areas like patient communication, education and raising awareness. We are likely to see better interoperability between EHRs and others systems in the future which can also open new possibilities for improvement.