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Electronic Health Record: Definition, Benefits and Potential for Changing the Face of Healthcare

Imagine that a person is admitted to hospital on emergency. Now imagine that this same person is allergic to some pretty common medication, but, being in a state of shock, unconsciousness or for any other such reason, fails to inform medical staff of his life-threatening allergy. One does not need to be a medical professional to see the possible dangers lurking behind the scenes of such a seemingly trivial setting.

An electronic health record, or EHR, is supposed to eliminate potentially fatal possibilities like this. Designed to reach out beyond the health organization that originally collects and compiles the information, EHRs are built to share information with all healthcare providers, so they contain information from all the clinicians involved in the given patient’s care.

To give a more formal definition, an electronic health record, or an EHR, is a longitudinal collection of a patient’s health data in a digital format that can be shared between healthcare professionals across different organizations. It can contain information on past treatments and medications, allergies, immunization status, laboratory tests and radiological imaging results, personal data, like weight and age, and vital signs, like heart rate and temperature.

How Beneficial are EHRs?

EHRs have great potential for creating more cost- and time-efficient healthcare. They eliminate randomness and dividedness of clinical visits. Since healthcare professionals from different institutions can have access to a patient’s record, there is no need to make phone calls, send papers through fax or conventional mail or for a patient to provide their usually patchy recollections of a visit that happened sometimes quite a while ago. What is achieved in the end is efficient and reliable data, accessible at any time. With paper records, a doctor only gets a glimpse of a patient’s health status, something similar to a primitive slideshow one could see with the help of old-fashioned slide-projectors, whereas an EHR is closer to a film with very little left out to be speculated on. A patient’s EHR would normally be integrated with ePrescriptions, which take the mission of achieving ultimate efficiency even further by eliminating possible errors and the need to decipher illegible handwritings.

It cannot be underestimated just how big of a difference EHRs can make in emergencies when data is priceless and time is short. When people encounter natural disasters or any major accidents of the same degree, because of stress, they are often incapable of thinking on their feet and remembering the simplest things about themselves, let alone their close ones. Hospitals also have to deal with consequences of disasters, like fires or hurricanes. For instance, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 a number of hospitals were rendered useless for patient care, but, owing to the usage of EHRs, some of them were able to provide virtually uninterrupted care in the wake of a disaster.

What will EHRs Bring in the Long Run?

The long-term benefits of global adoption of EHR systems are rather exciting. It goes without saying just how positive the impact of an EHR on a single patient can be, but if one considers the possible analysis and research that can be done using a scope of data obtained with consent from the whole population of a country, or a continent, or even the whole world, the potential benefit seems unmistakably clear. Whereas now the decisions doctors make when recommending procedures or certain courses of treatment are usually based on a given patient’s medical history and a doctor’s knowledge and experience, the implementation and usage of EHR data on a countrywide scale will give the doctor an insight into the outcomes similar treatments have had for patients with similar medical histories.

EHRs and mHealth - a Symbiosis not to be Underestimated

In the past several years, patients and doctors have all been approaching the same conclusion that healthcare shouldn’t and cannot be provided solely within the four walls of a hospital. Such degree of health intervention is simply not enough for preventative healthcare, and this is where integration with mHealth comes into play. It is widely acknowledged that readings from wearable devices when taken on a larger scale and accessible to healthcare professionals can be a powerful tool for changing patients’ behavior and preventing serious health conditions like cardiovascular disease.

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