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Why Electronic Health Records are Vital During a Pandemic

Electronic health record on tablet

Today, everyone has a record of their last vacation online. Everyone has a record of their kids’ graduations, birthday parties and playdates. Many people even have a record of everything they eat. But when it comes to health history, very few Canadians can access a record digitally.

Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) and Electronic Health Records (EHRs) are very important to a well-functioning healthcare system. This is especially true during a pandemic like the one we are experiencing right now. Unfortunately, implementing EMRs and EHRs in Canada has been difficult.

Canada Health Infoway has been tasked with supporting the adoption of EHRs in Canada to the tune of about $2.5 billion. There is some progress being made, with 17% of Canadians accessing medical records electronically in 2019. In 2018, this number was 15%. However, the records that are accessible currently are only bits and pieces of patients’ data. Most of what Canadians can access online are lab results, current prescriptions, medication history and immunization history. In other words, EHRs track medical inputs but don’t often track outcomes that truly measure a patient’s health.

The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated how important EHRs are during public health crises. The healthcare industry should start preparing for the next pandemic by moving all patients’ data into digital form and sharing this data widely and across healthcare entities – so-called “interoperability”.

So, why are digital health records so important during a pandemic? Here are some reasons:

EHRs Keep the Healthcare System Functioning 

As we’ve seen with the current pandemic, the healthcare industry can be overwhelmed by an influx of patients. Making patient visits more efficient can help to mitigate this problem. A great way to do this is to make patients’ health information easily accessible to any doctor that they see.

Right now in Canada, when a doctor sees a patient, other than their family doctor, they have to discuss their health history. Not only does this take a significant amount of time but patients can have an imperfect memory of their medical history.

What makes it worse is that this usually happens in an emergency room where doctors have other patients who urgently need their attention, including victims of the COVID-19 pandemic right now. Shortening emergency room visits is even more important during a pandemic because it reduces the risk transmission to the doctors or other patients.

One study found there was a 65% decrease in identification time of patients on admission after the implementation of EMRs.

EHRs Improve Quality of Healthcare

EHRs could greatly improve the handling of a pandemic because it would allow doctors to see what treatments have been used against the novel virus and which ones have worked.

Doctors have difficulty treating patients suffering from such a novel virus because there is a lack of clinical research on treatments. For this reason, during a pandemic, case notes from other doctors are the main piece of evidence for doctors deciding what treatment to use. If there is an electronic record of other doctors using a certain treatment, this could greatly increase the outcomes of patients, especially early during a pandemic.

Another way that EHRs could improve patient outcomes in a pandemic is if patients kept a symptom journal which could be uploaded to the electronic record. Then doctors could monitor patients’ symptoms, whether they were virus-related or not, and only tell them to come to the hospital if symptoms were sufficiently concerning. This would keep people out of the hospitals and keep everyone in the hospitals safer.

One step further is if patients voluntarily connected biometric data, such as their temperature, blood pressure, etc; then doctors would have an objective measure to monitor for severe illness. Obviously, data security would need to be a top priority if this kind of data was in the EHRs.

EHRs Help Public Health Authorities Track the Pandemic

A fully-functional electronic record could also help public health authorities get the pandemic under control. If doctors input patients’ diagnoses into the record, this could be used to understand where the virus is spreading. Public health authorities could also receive info on symptoms so that they can keep the public informed about symptoms to watch for.

EHRs are used in some places, such as the United States for identifying diseases, including acute hepatitis B, influenza-like illness, and acute infectious gastro-intestinal disease. To really make a difference in public health EHRs must get to the point where.

  • They cover virtually all of the population
  • There are standardized EHR measures of factors influencing public health
  •  There is standardized reporting of these measures
  • There are ways of securely linking individuals’ EHR data over time

Data Security and EHRs

The elephant in the room when it comes to EHRs is data security. There are some patients and doctors who are wary about security when it comes to patients’ data and EHRs. This is why it’s important to work with a company like Bay Area Records when digitizing your paper records.

Bay Area Records is fully compliant with all provincial and federal privacy legislation, they adhere to the standards of the Canadian General Standards board, the Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner, and the Colleges of the Regulated Health Professionals. Bay Area Records Director Peggy van Wyck has a broad background in privacy policy and risk management, and is a member of the International Association of Privacy Professionals.

Bay Area Records’ secure facility is tightly controlled and has an around-the-clock security system to protect paper assets while they are being converted. In partnership with Octacom, they also provide secure, cloud-based software solutions that allow you to securely access documents anytime, anywhere from your computer or mobile device.

This pandemic has shown that we need to push harder for Electronic Health Records. EHRs might have helped reduce the impact of this pandemic and made care for those who contracted it more efficient for the overtaxed healthcare providers. It is time we moved into the 21st century and moved into digitally-accessible health records.

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