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The Trend Towards Electronic Medical Records

A look at the advantages, as well as the concerns, associated with switching from paper-based medical records to an EMR system.

We are all familiar with the routine: you sit in the waiting room, thumbing through 4 month old Time magazines.  Finally you’re called into the exam room, only to hear the empty promise that the doctor or NP will “be with you soon.”  Usually after more waiting, he or she finally comes in carrying a manila folder containing your medical record.  But recently some of you may have noticed them with a tablet or laptop computer instead of paper.  This is because their practice has joined the ranks of care providers who have adopted an Electronic Medical Records system, or EMR, as a replacement for their paper-based medical records.

In this digital age, clinging to paper systems seems nostalgic if not archaic.  In fact, there are many advantages of an EMR system.  For instance:

·         Connectivity:  Imagine you need to go to the emergency room in your hometown.  Your medical history including current medications, diagnoses, and treatments is not conveniently on hand.  Of course, your PCP and specialists have this wealth of information required to treat you, but it spread across several offices, perhaps across several towns.  Through EMR systems, a health exchange network can be set up, allowing instant access to crucial medical details at the point of care.

·         Efficiency:  Studies of return on investment show that an EMR can save a practice time and money.  Many EMR systems link the clinical side of the practice to the billing.  This streamlines the work flow from the healthcare provider to the medical biller and on to the insurance company who ultimately will reimburse the provider for their services.  Many EMR’s also manage patient appointments, saving time on check-in.  Some interface with phone and text messaging systems to save staff-hours spent calling for appointment reminders and cancellations.

·         Security:  Obviously this is a major concern for providers as well as patients, and that is why major EMR companies use the latest in encryption and security standards.  Think about it – is it easier to walk out of a building with a piece of paper, or hack your way through the layers of digital security designed by world-wide experts?  Furthermore, paper can easily get lost or misplaced.  When configured correctly, multiple levels of back-up in geographically diverse locations can all but prevent the loss of data.

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