Of the many changes that have occurred in our health-care system, one that particularly affects most providers is the advent of electronic health records (EHRs). Although hospitals have been charting electronically for years, medical offices have not been as quick to adopt this initiative. However, due to changes in the business of health care, medical offices are now seeking out acceptable and affordable EHR programs and receiving incentives to implement them. 

The idea behind EHRs is easy accessibility for health-care providers and 
patients alike. Having medical information at one’s fingertips is a great asset for continuity of care.

Practitioners can access old records once those documents have been scanned into the computer system, and newly acquired health information is placed directly into an electronic chart. Legible handwriting is no longer a concern with typed data. Laboratory and diagnostic test results may be filed directly to the patient’s chart with no loss of paperwork. Health history, allergies and lifestyle information now available, all at a click of a key. This system allows for greater use of the heath-care provider’s time.

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Along with the positive aspects of new technology, there are bound to be some drawbacks. For example, costs for EHR programs are steep, ranging from acquiring computers for all providers, to scanning fees, to the extra time that may be required to complete one’s day of charting (in the beginning phase). 

It will also cost you time in other ways. Going “live” with your practice’s EHR program will probably mean decreased productivity for an average period of six to 12 months. The standard 15-minute time slot allotted for each patient will likely double. At first, it’s not that easy or quick to navigate through the areas of information that need to be completed in the new computer system for each initial visit. Waiting for patient charts to be scanned, saved and uploaded to the new system is a disruption for the entire office staff. Much time is spent trying to locate previous medical information. Patients wonder why you are asking all these questions that they have already answered on previous visits, and they are not at all happy to know their wait time will be longer due to the new system. 

The good news is, there is a rainbow at the end of this EHR storm. One grand benefit of EHR implementation is the meaningful-use incentives from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The incentive is a great way for small practices to finance an affordable EHR program. 

Additional benefits of EHR implementation include:

  • Being able to read your colleagues’ notes
  • Patients having access to their own medical records and becoming active participants in their own care
  • Supplemental educational material being just a click away
  • Being able to prescribe medications with just a few clicks
  • Easily recording and tracking immunizations through statewide programs
  • Collaborating/consulting with other health-care providers more efficiently

Like all shiny new toys, the novelty of EHR will wear off, and computer charting will become second nature. When all the kinks have been worked out and health-care providers are pros, we will ponder the days we didn’t have an EHR system and laugh at how we could have possibly ever gotten by without it.

Rachael Buitrago, CPNP, is an ANCC-board-certified pediatric nurse practitioner in a private office in South Florida, and has taught as adjunct nursing faculty at local universities.