Incorporating information technology into healthcare would seem to be nothing but beneficial. However, as information technology slowly becomes more ubiquitous in health care, certain disadvantages and drawbacks are becoming apparent.
Electronic Health Care Records
When talking about information technology for healthcare, the electronic health care record (EHR) is the most obvious change in recent years. The EHR was created to overcome the many disadvantages of paper records. If a patient is being seen by different physicians, or being seen in an emergency situation, paper health care records are usually inaccessible. However, an EHR can be accessed anywhere and used to inform care of the patient. According to a healthcare administrator with a degree in Health Information Management, this ease of access can directly contribute to patient safety and improve their chances of making a full recovery. One drawback of the ease of access to the EHR is when seeking a second opinion—the second doctor may read the EHR and not approach the situation with a truly open mind.
EHRs can be programmed to provide automatic alerts that can reduce medical errors. For example, if a doctor mistakenly prescribes penicillin to a patient with an allergy, the EHR can alert the doctor to the error. EHRs can also remind doctors to recommend vaccines, suggest screening examinations, and prescribe other preventative services that can save the health-care system money. Unfortunately, from the healthcare provider’s point of view, implementing effective preventative services often decreases revenue.
Most EHRs allow doctors to send electronic prescriptions, referrals and other orders through the EHR to the relevant party such as the pharmacy. Not having to decipher handwriting when preparing prescriptions can, in theory, prevent many medical errors. However, some direct-ordering EHR systems have been shown to actually cause medical errors when doctors accidentally selected the wrong pull-down box or entered data in the wrong field.
Medicine has been very slow to adopt EHRs. Concerns about the upfront costs of acquiring EHRs, the disruption to the workflow as the new system is learned, and the ongoing cost of maintenance has deterred many private physician’s offices and even large hospitals from acquiring EHRs. If a health-care provider is being reimbursed under the fee-for-service model, implementing EHRs may be a financial drain on the provider.
Another drawback of EHRs is ensuring privacy of patient information. Of course, security is built into EHRs, but hackers routinely steal credit card numbers and the like from secure electronic systems. Patients worry their most intimate medical details will be stolen as well.
As more health-care providers acquire and use EHRs the true benefits and drawbacks, instead of the theoretical ones, should become apparent.