Patient medical records are prepared and maintained for various reasons such as to provide details for the patient’s care and for financial purposes. For many years, especially before the invention of computers, health care providers used paper files to document patient details and any other relevant medical work. After the invention of computers, medical professionals are shifting from paper files into Electronic Medical Records (EMR). This paper will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of Electronic Medical Records. Some advantages include; EMR saves space, promotes coordination, saves time, and provides high storage capacity. The disadvantages include; high initial cost, lack of standardized language and confidentiality concerns, and many more which are discussed in the paper.
Advantages and Disadvantages of electronic medical records
Patient health records are prepared for various purposes which range from documenting patient care, to provide legal and financial information, and provide information for further improvements. For many past years, health records have been in the form of papers, and because of continued problems associated with paper records, it is obvious that developing electronic medical records (EHR) would be helpful. However, as there are merits and demerits of paper records the same applies to computerized medical records.
There are distinct advantages of electronic medical records; one, electronic medical records have large storage capabilities and can store informatics for a long time. “Information can be accessed by many people in remote areas at the same time and also there is immediate retrieval of information.” (Manda, 2008) Update of records is continuous, available everywhere, and quickly accessible whenever needed in any workplace. Secondly, computerized medical records can provide medication reminders and alerts. These medical systems are constructed such that they can detect abnormal results from laboratories and drug failure. Another benefit of an electronic medical record is that it saves space, thus instead of millions of paper files kept in cabinets, the office will just need one computer file. Again that computer will require just one user, reducing space in the process. This is because paper files require quite a number of personnel to prepare, maintain and retrieve the required information.
Once paper records are no longer maintained, large quantities of space will not be required anymore. EHR cuts storage costs by reducing papers needed by medical officers, hospitals, and insurance firms. With computers, the cost of sharing patient information is reduced because paperwork is minimal or no longer existing. EHR ensures continuity and coordination of care between providers. It avoids duplication of services such as testing and medical description because such information is made available at the point of care. Because the specialist and nursing doctors “share a common record management system, it is easier to understand other providers actions and recommendations”.
EHR saves time through the facilitation of information movement. Through e-mail and faxing, information can be transferred from one doctor to another without necessarily moving, which saves time. The movement of paper records stored in different locations and transporting them to one place for review is time-consuming. Although there is a time lag in the transfer, it is not long as it would be in the case of using paper files. With all information such as laboratory tests and X-rays scans available, specialists are able to start working immediately hence saving time. “Doctors are said to have understandable handwriting which might result to medical errors.” (Manda, 2008) The computer eliminates such errors because, computer work can be understood by almost anybody wanting to access the information, as it is clear and accurate. However, we should not rule out typing errors.
EHR can be used as a management tool in risk management and result assessment. “Implementation of information depends on the outcome; hence providers must seek ways of improving quality of care and results while checking on costs.” (Dick et al)Electronic health records reduce charting time and errors hence improving the performance of health care providers and reducing medical errors caused by illegible paper notes. Every stakeholder in medical services providers is concerned with the reduction of medical risks and medical errors. There have been incidents of mistakes happening as a result of notes prepared by doctors. Electronic medical records address these problems which have plagued medical service providers since immemorial. Electronic medical records provide accurate billing information and hence, by submitting their claim electronically, health care providers will get paid quickly. Patients on other hand are happier because they do not have to keep on providing the same information since the information is electronically available to its users. Although the installation of some systems is costly, in the long run, the gains in efficiency definitely offset these costs. Data is readily available without waiting for several days thereby avoiding duplication. There is no delay in the search of paper notes and hence the fast implementation of outcomes.
Electronic medical records disadvantages include; Excessive startup costs. “Although health care organizations aim at reducing cost by reallocating resources to computerized records it still remains a challenge.” (Wallen et al) Hence the gains from electronic medical records might be of importance to the patient rather than the return on investment expected by the health care providers. Installing an information system is very costly as one would need new computers and trained personal to run the system. Another disadvantage of electronic medical records is that the introduction and implementation might be difficult thus prohibitive. It requires people with technical knowledge of the system. For example, inexperienced or slow typists may take unduly long to input data thereby affecting the efficiency of information dissemination. As result, today’s clinicians are frequently using the system instead of the clerks who were past users. “It is quite challenging for the physicians because they must be the users of the system, undertaking data inputting as well as retrieval of information.” (Schloeffel, 2001) Therefore usability of the system is proving to be an obstacle towards the implementation of the EHR and the hospital workers would probably find it difficult to use such systems.
Electronic medical records reduce confidentiality and security of health records because of the many people that get access to the information. Many patients wish to have their health status kept private and, hence medical records should ensure confidentiality of the information. Any access to medical information by unauthorized people may result in patient-medical providers’ confrontation. Another disadvantage of the system is that it results in job losses. People who once used to keep paper records may be eliminated from their workplace by the new technology. There are no standardized electronic medical systems to be used by all health care providers, hence different hospitals and medical professionals use different programs. “For electronic medical records to be shared efficiently a common language must be developed and the software market has many software applications” (Young, 2000). If such programs fail to mesh with one another, then sharing of information would fail. When a common language is developed, it will be possible for the system to be used by different users and in different health care disciplines.
Despite these few challenges, many medical professionals and hospitals have introduced electronic medical records. The implementation of the concept has clear benefits even though there are still some hindrances. Therefore the government and other medical providers must make changes necessary to speed up the introduction of the program. There are many issues that must be considered by any organization before implementing the programs to ensure the confidentiality and efficiency of data storage and dissemination. The organization must analyze such issues carefully and identify the merits and demerits of the system.
- Dick, et al. The Computer-Based Patient Record: An Essential Technology for Health Care.
- Manda Spring, 2008. EMR advantages and disadvantages.
- Schloeffel, et al. 2001. Background and Overview of the Good Electronic Health Records.
- Wellen, et al. The Electronic Medical Record: Misconceptions, Barriers, and Benefits.
- Young, Kathleen M. (2000) Informatics for Health care Professionals. Philadelphia: F.A. Davis.