The Greater Need for EHR Adoption
In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvest Act revolutionized the way American healthcare providers do business. As part of the economic stimulus package, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Heath (HITECH) Act set out to create a national health care infrastructure and outline specific incentives designed to accelerate the adoption of electronic health records (EHR) systems among medical providers. HITECH became the nation’s first financial commitment to support the broad transition from paper records to EHRs and better healthcare information systems.
The measure, in terms of implementation, was a resounding success. According to research performed by the American Hospitals Association between 2009 and 2015, 96 percent of all non-federal acute care hospitals installed EHR systems. And the Department of Health and Human Services reported a 75 percent implementation rate among office-based physicians by 2012. However, this progress created a new dilemma: Technology is always changing, so once an organization makes the transition from paper records to digital, systems will continue to evolve. As such, they will require ongoing and continuous maintenance, upgrading, and people who are trained to use them properly. The transition to electronic health records forced healthcare—an industry notoriously slow and resistant to change—to match technology’s accelerated rate of change or be left behind.
Healthcare providers made an important and necessary change by swapping paper-based systems for electronic applications. EHRs allow for quick access to information that is standardized and shared, enabling more efficient and accurate care. They reduce medical errors and enable safer, more reliable prescribing. And on the business side, they can improve efficiency and enhance the security of patient data. However, healthcare practitioners are now beholden to a new technology-focused environment in a constant state of flux. This isn’t a bad thing—it’s simply the reality of a modern, mobile world.
While the healthcare industry saw dramatic progress in the implementation of systems, many failed to improve their clinical and financial outcomes through technology. This is due, in part, to the fact that implementation is often confused with adoption. Implementation is one-time or short-term “go-live” event, while true adoption refers to the long-term, continued use of a given system within an organization. Adoption takes time to become sustainable, and includes facets such as initial training, “elbow support” during the go-live phase, and ongoing continuing education. A common misconception is that simply implementing an EHR system will produce patient and practice outcomes. In truth, implementation is only one step along the journey to successful technology adoption.
While integration of a digital record-keeping system is relatively straightforward, Dr. Heather Haugen, Chief Science Officer for Atos’s Digital Health Solutions division, says the greater need for true adoption comes during transitions from one electronic system to another. “With the rate of technological advancement rapidly increasing and more sophisticated applications emerging, healthcare organizations must embrace adoption as a practice and mindset in order to succeed in healthcare’s next frontier,” says Haugen.
More so than the initial move from paper health records to an electronic application, switching from one electronic system to another creates significant barriers to successful adoption. Organizations undertaking this process may face greater end-user resistance than during the initial switch, as they likely spent considerable time and effort learning how to use the initial system. The thought of going through this process all over again can be daunting for many healthcare providers.
In order to create better healthcare information systems and conditions for successful EHR adoption, organizations must invest in robust end-user training from the outset, as insufficient or ineffective training often creates more problems during a time when the institution is already in transition. Otherwise, the EHR system will have minimal value, particularly during its initial launch. Healthcare providers often rely on outdated and ineffective training practices such as instructor-led, classroom training. A lack of efficiency, availability, and effectiveness are among the many drawbacks of this approach, especially compared with simulator and role-based education that provides users hands-on experience relative to their job. It is also critical that end-users have on-the-ground support during the initial launch of an EHR system, as it helps reinforce customization to a practice’s specific needs and significantly reduces error rates and adjustment time.
The healthcare industry also needs more sophisticated EHR technology. While healthcare information systems have traditionally served as data repositories, advances in EHR systems continue to forge new ground. For example, healthcare providers can now employ specialty-specific versions of EHR software that are tailored to a practice’s unique needs, speeding up data entry with templates and treatment scenarios. Organizations can also connect their EHR software to their practice management software, streamlining day-to-day operations and revenue cycles.
EHRs have come a long way in the last 10 years, but the most exciting innovations are yet to come. How is your organization working toward better healthcare information systems?