Health data research is an exciting field. Thanks to developments in technology, an increase in wearable devices, and fundamental changes in consumer expectations of the healthcare sector, we now have access to an abundance of previously unavailable data which has the potential to change the face of healthcare delivery across the world and improve patient outcomes in the process.
One important element of the digitisation of health data is electronic patient records (EPRs). The majority of healthcare providers and trusts are now using electronic patient records to store, share and use patient information, and there is a wealth of evidence to show that digitisation is proving to be an important tool in improving patient care and achieving efficiency gains. However, with 1 in 7 NHS trusts reportedly still lagging behind and relying on paper record keeping, here is are some of the key reasons why making the move to digital – and embracing EPRs as part of that process – is an absolute necessity for the future development of healthcare services:
EPRs support clinical decision-making
At the heart of the matter is the potential for EPRs to support clinical decision-making by providing clinicians with information, at the touch of a button, to help them make more effective healthcare decisions for their patients. This information includes not only a patient’s full medical and treatment history, but also access to a range of decision-making tools.
EPRs reduce the administrative burden on staff and improve workflow
Digitisation of records helps clinicians by freeing up ‘time to care’, as well as making tasks more straightforward and improving flow for administrative staff. EPRs support staff with bed management as well as discharge summaries, which are crucial when handing over patients to community teams and ensuring accurate information is conveyed to pharmacies etc.
EPRs improve communication and create a smoother care journey for patients
EPRs are just one aspect of a much broader, more contemporary approach to healthcare communications. Digitisation has the potential to change the way that patients access healthcare, for example by enabling them to access their own medical records via a smartphone app; make appointments at the location/with the physician of their choice; access information relating to the management of specific conditions; and where appropriate, access support from clinicians directly via telemedicine services. Through digitisation, patients are empowered to manage their own treatment journey, and as a result experience greater autonomy, choice and control, with the added benefit of helping avoid unnecessary hospital admissions.
EPRs facilitate joined-up working and collaboration within and between departments
Integrated patient record systems enable clinicians from different healthcare departments (such as radiology, oncology, general medicine etc.), as well as practitioners from different disciplines (for example general practitioners, social workers, occupational therapists and physiotherapists) to share information, communicate and provide a coordinated approach to each individual’s plan of care, for the benefit of all.
EPRs save money for healthcare providers
By improving efficiency, enhancing communication and reducing duplicate/wasted visits, particularly in the community setting, EPRs have the potential to introduce substantial cost and efficiency savings for health and social care providers and insurers.
EPRs lead to more accurate record-keeping and a reduction in human error
EPRs are maintained on an ongoing basis, viewed by multiple stakeholders and audited regularly. This means that they are kept up-to-date and errors (such as lost paperwork, missing test results, problems with transcribing handwriting etc.) are kept to a minimum. Reminders and prompts can be built into EPRs as standard, reducing the responsibility on individual clinicians to chase-up other departments, order tests etc. Furthermore, the consolidation of information in a single digital location reduces the risk of reporting errors arising from the use of multiple systems.
EPRs enable electronic prescribing and incorporate reminders for physicians
Because EPR’s contain all the relevant information pertaining to a particular patient, physicians are able to prescribe electronically, once again saving time and reducing the risk of human error. Additionally, prescription information is available to other physicians involved in patient’s care, across multiple locations. EPRs often feature embedded reminder systems for healthcare providers, signposting when a patient is due for standard checks – such as blood pressure, cholesterol or cancer screening – as well as more complex assessments and cognitive screening measures.
EPRs enable the implementation of quality improvement measures
Differences in the way that care is delivered, coupled with measurement difficulties associated with paper record-keeping, has historically made it challenging to address quality measurement or to implement effective quality improvement initiatives within the healthcare sector. The introduction of EPRs not only enables meaningful comparisons to be made and outcomes to be objectively measured, it also supports the adoption of more uniform, consistent approaches to care, making it easier to measure quality and, where necessary, introduce quality improvement initiatives.
EPRs improve the quality and safety of care
In addition to improving quality, consolidating patient information in a single, digital location means that critical patient information – for example, information relating to allergies and alerts for the management of chronic conditions – is instantly available to all stakeholders, significantly reducing the likelihood of healthcare emergencies.
EPRs facilitate health research and provide longitudinal data relating to a range of conditions
In addition to the operational and patient-level benefits of digitising individual health records, another significant advantage is the sheer volume of big data being produced, which can be used to inform science and research.
EPRs: the future of healthcare
There is no doubt that in all aspects of society, digitisation is the future and healthcare is no exception. Electronic patient records have the potential to transform healthcare services: reducing costs and creating efficiency savings for healthcare providers; informing future healthcare research and development; and crucially, improving standards, experiences and outcomes for patients.