How EHRs Improve Patient Safety

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I read an interesting — well, terrifying, actually — study the other day on how providers at a hospital used their electronic health records (EHRs). I know, not the typical fuel for nightmares, but bear with me. The excessive workarounds and shortcuts, disjointed note-taking, and uncoordinated workflows “pose a threat to patient safety and quality of care,” according to the researchers.
I want to focus on how the right EHRs used in the right way can, in fact, improve patient safety and lower mortality.

Advanced Automation

If a patient forgets to pick up a vital prescription, wouldn’t you want to know so that you or your office staff could remind them, or you could see if a delivery service could help? What if, when a diabetic patient scores above a certain level on their A1c hemoglobin test, they are automatically enrolled in an educational, interactive, evidence-based protocol to manage their condition?
Good news: These capabilities exist! Real-time communication and seamless data transfer are among some EHRs’ greatest strengths. These automated processes can reduce the harm caused by human error while engaging your patients and keeping you informed. For instance, when a patient leaves the emergency department, an optimal EHR can notify primary care providers, autopopulate the discharge notes, and prompt you to schedule a follow-up to ensure continuity of care.

Leverage Patient-Reported Data

Quality measures are the highway to value- and risk-based contracts. They’re also excellent chances to gauge, evaluate, and protect patients’ health.
Patient-generated health data is gaining momentum as evidenced by the FDA approving the Apple Watch for EKG monitoring. In fact, wearables and other Internet of Healthcare Things devices will likely gather more and more passive patient data. There’s actually a really interesting debate around the ethics of this, but I digress.
Until that day, we can rely on patients to self-report important information that helps us and them. In fact, my team and I did just this. We teamed up with providers on an outreach campaign to address four common quality measures: flu vaccine, pneumonia vaccine, colon cancer screening, and breast cancer screenings. Any patient who appeared to have a gap in one of these measures received an automated customized message in their patient portal. After a three-month build period to integrate the patient data, we ran two campaigns in six months. In that short amount of time, we closed 12,000 care gaps which saved providers the equivalent of 125 business days’ worth of asking patients these same questions.
Think of how much time that is. Not only are you improving patient safety by closing gaps, but you’re freeing so much time to dedicate to helping more patients, thereby improving their health. You can redirect your focus to other important aspects of your patients’ health rather than determining whether or not they got their flu shot.

Empowering Patients

Patient engagement and empowerment is like the standby mode of patient safety. No provider can watch over all of their patients all of the time. You can deliver best-in-class diagnoses and offer comprehensive, understandable treatment plans, but patients are still the ones carrying them out. To use an analogy: a mechanic can tune up your car, change your tires, and install brakes that stop on a dime, but they won’t drive your car for you. That’s up to you to stay safe.
Let’s revisit that diabetes protocol. (That’s real, by the way. You can read more about it here; it’s cool, I promise.) Maybe a patient sails through nutritional and exercise section but falters with medication management. Such programs can notify providers of opportunities for patient engagement, an overlooked component of patient safety.
As healthcare consumerism advances and patients command more and more responsibility (and cost), keep them involved with a patient portal that integrates and syncs with your EHR. Here are some of the features of a robust, powerful patient portal:

  • Refill prescriptions
  • Converse with their care team
  • View test or imaging results
  • Schedule a visit
  • Pay their bill

EHRs get a bad rap for causing burnout and stealing time away from patients. Sometimes, unfortunately, that is the case. However, a powerful EHR can also increase patient safety when used properly and also save you time that you can allocate to spending time caring for your patients.

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