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5 steps to electronic health records

The words ‘efficiency drive’ strike fear into the heart of any clinician who cares about their patients. But across Europe, an ageing population is costing health services more money – 80% of the care we need in our lives is required after we’re 65 – and budgets are shrinking rather than expanding. Fortunately many efficiency improvements can also improve patient outcomes – and one that can do just that is the electronic health record (EHR).

Making clinicians’ lives easier

We’ve come to trust the paper record in healthcare. But records take a long time to fill out, writing is often illegible, paper is easily lost, and incomplete or poor records can cause error.

What’s more, while some countries, notably the UK with its Summary Care Record, are working to make records available to all clinics, at the moment, when someone presents to a new clinic or hospital, staff are unlikely to have access to their records. And, if the person is elderly, they may not be able to provide any insight into their condition. The EHR tackles this issue by providing a secure record of each patient’s history at the point of care to improve treatment. What’s more, the record can red flag issues such as allergies to prevent prescribing errors.

To date, major EHR programmes have had a patchy record. But technology is changing all the time and the core pieces of an EHR system are now relatively simple to install. My five steps to think about when planning an electronic records system include:

  1. Connect your sites: Because of the sheer quantity of data that could flow over clinics’ Wi-Fi networks, much of it sensitive, the networks will probably need to be upgraded to rugged systems that are built for business. The good news is that the latest networks are superfast and much easier to put in and run – the savings that IT teams will make in managing the networks will see them pay for themselves within a short timeframe.
  2. Connect your teams: You’ll need to provide your teams with mobile devices that have scanners on them to scan barcodes, e.g. from medicines and patients’ wristbands.
  3. Define the data: Defining what data you want to make available is critical to the success of the system. You’ll also need to design template forms to make it easier for clinicians to quickly report using their mobile devices and ensure that records are of a consistent quality.
  4. Connect the systems: One of the biggest challenges of connecting a care records system is making it securely available to all clinics. This is now much easier, and more cost-efficient, thanks to secure cloud computing platforms that allow you to create and access your care records system using any web browser.
  5. Farm the data: EHRs will transform the level of data you capture. Big Data software enables you to look for trends in this data to improve care, diagnosis and prescriptions.

Start small

The downscaling of the EU’s ambitious Single eHealth Area project and the initial problems that the UK’s National Care Record system faced have raised concerns about the viability of EHRs. But the technology is very robust and proven now, and we’ve seen partners create cloud systems for care records that are easy to deploy. The lessons from the US suggest that the best approach is to create a national spine of basic data and then link this with regional bodies that have the freedom to build their own systems. This creation of smaller discrete components simply makes EER projects much more manageable.

This approach provides a good starting point for building EHRs that will slash costs and improve the quality of care – a win for both clinicians and their patients.

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