What are electronic health records (EHR)?

Today, your doctor likely keeps a paper record (sometimes called a "chart") of your information in his or her office. If you're hospitalized, your hospital also keeps a chart. An electronic health record (EHR) is, at its simplest, a digital version of those paper charts in your clinician’s office.With EHRs, a patient’s information is available whenever and wherever it is needed.

A growing number of doctors and hospitals use EHRs -- and more are converting to these systems every day. EHRs are growing in popularity in the health care industry, in part because they can help providers improve their ability to collect and analyze information to make better decisions about your care. Other reasons providers are using EHRs instead of paper records isthat they can improve the quality of care you receive by incorporating reminders for preventive services and warnings when a doctor prescribes a medication that could interact with something else you are already taking. The Federal government is giving doctors and hospitals financial incentives to adopt and use EHRs in ways that improve care.

William Lee Dubois

So in the old days, your doc came into the treatment room with a fat file folder and scribbled notes about your health concerns and questions, as well has his or her observations, plan, and medications prescribed. Then the file folder was put back into a huge book case with thousands of others until the next time you came to visit. Increasingly, in offices and clinics across the country, your doc now comes in with a laptop computer. Electronic charts have many advantages for everyone involved. The clinic that I work at “went” electronic several years back. For us on the staff it was a… painful… process. But like a root canal, you sure hate it at the time, but are glad you did it afterwards.

Here are a few of the great things about electronic medical records, from my perspective, in no particular order.

Phone calls. In the days of paper, if a patient called, I’d have to put them on hold, make a frantic call to medical records, and ask a clerk to pull a chart for me. Now, in a couple of mouse clicks I can have the whole chart at my fingertips. “OK, I’m now looking at your last visit and it looks like your metformin was increased to….”

Labs. We have what is called an “interface” with most of the big lab companies. When your blood is sent out for any kind of test, the results are populated into your chart automatically. This eliminates miss-filing and keeps all the results together. We can pull up results and see a list of changes over time. “Look how much better your cholesterol is getting!”

Alerts. If you are overdue for visits, important screenings, or anything else, the computer software can remind us so we can get you in.

Recalls. Let us say a medication you are taking is suddenly recalled. In the old days of paper it was nearly impossible to be sure you had contacted every patient taking the drug. Now in several mouse clicks I can have a list of every patient the clinic has that is taking a certain medication.

Improved privacy. Yep. I know a lot of people worry that having their medical records in electronic form increases the risk that someone inappropriate will get their paws on your information. But I think electronic records are more secure. Anyone can open a paper chart. Electronic charts can be blocked at various levels. They can be set so that front desk clerks can only see the name and address. Nurses have greater access, and providers have full access. Everyone gets what they need, and not a bit more.

Electronic health records (EHR) are a collection of information kept electronically and controlled by your doctor, hospital or other medical provider. The records may be managed by the provider, laboratories, pharmacies and other organizations involved with your care.

There is no one “repository” for all of your health records. An EHR may contain information from and be accessed by every doctor and medical facility where you receive care.

Electronic health records (EHRs) are digital versions of patients' paper charts. But EHRs, when fully up and running, are so much more than that. EHRs are real-time, patient-centered records. They make information available instantly, whenever and wherever it is needed. EHRs can:

  • Contain information about a person's medical history, diagnoses, medications, immunization dates, allergies, radiology images and lab and test results
  • Offer access to evidence-based tools that providers can use in making decisions about a person's care
  • Automate and streamline providers' workflow
  • Increase organization and accuracy of patient information
  • Support key market changes in payer requirements and consumer expectations

One of the key features of an EHR is that it can be created, managed and consulted by authorized providers and staff across more than one health care organization. A single EHR can bring together information from current and past doctors, emergency facilities, school and workplace clinics, pharmacies, laboratories and medical imaging facilities.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.