Implementing electronic health records: Are you ready?

As a member of the Millennial Generation, I grew up with computers. I had typing classes in elementary school, so using early chat programs like instant messenger, sending email and texting on smart phones are second nature to me.

When I interviewed for my current position at a small community health clinic, the facility had not yet implemented an electronic health record (EHR). But plans for digitizing the practice were in full swing, and I was assured that the EHR would be fully operational prior to my arrival. If this were not the case, it surely would have been a deal breaker for me in accepting the job.

Unfortunately many other eligible professionals and practices are missing the boat on a $27 billion incentive from the federal government to adopt EHRs. October 3, 2011 was the last day for eligible professions to begin their 90-day reporting period for the Medicare EHR Incentive Program 2011 calendar year.

In February 2009, President Obama declared that investing in EHRs and other new technology is necessary to reduce health care errors, cut cost, ensure privacy and save lives.

Yet, many health care professionals are questioning whether EHRs will truly improve the quality, safety and effectiveness of care? The answer is, we don't know for sure — there are few to no evidence-based studies exploring this area.

What we do know is that EHRs provide a platform for concise, convenient and accessible patient health information. This has the potential to improve provider collaboration and continuity of care, and is thus a small, but important step in the direction towards improving health care for all Americans.  

When you are sitting through countless hours of EHR training modules with your stomach rumbling, when the energy required to move the mouse seems to burn more calories than running a marathon and your eyelids are drooping from test charts that induce drowsiness like tryptophan, remember this: Whether you are a member of the Millennium Generation or not, using EHRs will become second-nature for many practicing medicine in the future.  

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