How Are Practitioners Using EHRs to Treat COVID-19?

May 21st, 2021 /
Andrew Fearnley
/ 6 Min Read

covid & EHR software

Electronic Medical Records and COVID-19

Electronic Medical Records (EHR) have improved by leaps and bounds over the last year or so. COVID-19 pushed practitioners to adopt telemedicine to combat the Coronavirus. As a result, many medical professionals have adopted, reviewed, and improved EHRs to provide an upgraded experience, compared to traditional in-office visits- both for practitioners and their patients. 

In fact, in a J.D. Power survey from 2019, researchers revealed that telemedicine maintains a higher satisfaction rate than all other healthcare options. 

What’s more is that COVID-19 helped push the improvement of EHRs, years ahead of schedule. 

How can EHRs help with the COVID-19 crisis?

Telehealth software allows practitioners to maintain social distancing standards and prevent needless visits to the doctor’s office. The doctor can see through a FaceTime-like experience, securely delivered through HIPAA-compliant web applications

Covid Crisis
Covid-19 Crisis

Patient portals diminish the crowds in hospitals when hospital staff uses them for triage.

EHRs speed up the appointment time. Doctors can quickly review EHRs, see the patient, and send them on their way to wellness.

Lastly, by analyzing COVID-19 patient records, analysts can identify patterns and plan accordingly. COVID-19 EHR data has a wealth of knowledge within it. For example, it can be used to find COVID-19 hot spots. 

Increasing the use of EHR integrated telehealth

The president of Epic Systems (the Wisconsin Technology Council), Tom Still, states that he helped more than 200 clients begin using telemedicine systems in under one month. 

Sykes Enterprises interviewed more than 2,000 patients and asked about their views on telehealth:

  • Around 75% of individuals said they would use telemedicine if they had coronavirus symptoms. 
  • 20% said they had used telemedicine.
  • Around 60% have utilized it twice or more.

Moreover, over 50% of visits are performed virtually, and before March 2020, the percentage was a single-digit number. 

Enhancing data access using analytics

According to EHR Intelligence, data analytics provides medical professionals with the information they need to:

  • Anticipate trends in COVID-19 and other health threats.
  • Determine what patients need and will need.
  • Organize health data.
  • Filter COVID-19 patients.
  • Analyze patient visit volumes.
  • Analyze patient visit durations. 

Implementing EHR dashboards

Another way EHR has expanded and improved since the start of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic is through EHR dashboards. Health information exchanges, medical organizations, and The Regenstrief Institute collaborated to create the dashboards and improve healthcare for patients while synthesizing the available data so that doctors can find the correct information at the right time.

According to EHR Intelligence, EHR dashboards assist physicians and medical staff through:

  • Coronavirus tracking.
  • Timely and accurate response to COVID-19.
  • Informing state leaders of areas likely to become hot spots.
  • Collaborating with public health systems and other healthcare providers.
  • Collecting patient and community data from EHRs. 
  • Analyzing the collected data. 

How COVID-19 triggered a remote, virtual EHR implementation 

All this medical technology has been designed and adopted swiftly due to COVID-19. For example, many rules and restrictions- like doctor reimbursement for virtual visits– were eliminated due to the coronavirus crisis. And telehealth software paired with Electronic Health Record System to serve as a temporary replacement for in-office care in many instances.

For example, Providence St. Joseph in Seattle saw an increase in urgent virtual visits from 5 per day to 1500 per day. 

Additionally, The Department of Veteran Affairs, who could only serve 3,000 vets at once on their virtual platform, can now serve 15,000 vets at once. 

Lastly, the infrastructure and digital roadmap sped up by five years- all in one year! 

Suggestions for future EHR improvements

Suggestions for EHR improvement

Researchers from The Journal of The American Medical Informatics Association (JAMIA) studied 15 organizations that were delayed in their comprehension of the virus and how to treat it and predict virus patterns. By focusing on EHR data, analysts outlined the medical IT infrastructure currently in place and identified potential data ecosystem obstacles. 

From the research, JAMIA was able to design steps for mitigating the pandemic- currently and in the future. Experts say these steps might also help future medical crises. While they suggest the infrastructure should assist public health organizations that use EHR, now is not the time. 

Now is not the time to make significant changes to the public health infrastructure because it is not prepared for integration that high-scale. The lack of preparedness means that large amounts of data can’t be compiled and analyzed from these organizations. Doing so would mean submitting many pieces of data to many organizations. 

However, Dr. Douglas McKee, Chief Medical Information Officer at Health First, says, “Without the existing EHR infrastructure, we’d not only have to map out a path but lay the road while we’re on it. ” Dr. McKee leads the way for EMR modernization and is an expert informatics physician.

Thanks to the Coronavirus, a path has been made for the advancements, and momentum has begun. The course of disruption for EHRs, as suggested by Dr. McKee, is listed below:

  • Standardized systems

Dr. McKee compares his suggested standardization to ATMs. No matter where you go, the steps for using an ATM are the same. Likewise, EHR should be the same to diminish confusion and provide a seamless experience. 

  • Automatically compiled data

Data must be presented to the practitioner in an organized manner to ensure proper care for the patient. Currently, EHRs fall short in this area. According to MedCity News, doctors get the data, but there is often too much unorganized data for it to be used for patient care. 

  • Stop data-blocking

Dr. McKee suggests an end to data-blocking. Data sharing should replace it (within HIPAA guidelines). Doctors need to access patients’ EHRs from other doctors to safely and successfully treat a patient. 

For the above steps to happen, government enforcement is necessary. In addition, experts expect the 21st Century Cures Act to help enact the change needed for EHR. However, there have been delays due to COVID-19.

How EHR systems are stopping the spread of the Coronavirus

Researchers from JAMIA state that the steps they designed from their research could help non-essential medical practices stay open if there were another pandemic because they would be prepared through:

  • Contact tracing.
  • Research- preventive, essential, and therapeutic.
  • Maintaining the integrity of the information available for answering health questions from the public. Accurate, timely data is key to improving the use of EHRs.

The Takeaway

While EHRs are not where experts want them to serve the medical community and their patients best, there has been a massive improvement in the last year. Data analysts, doctors, and the government pooled together to improve the existing infrastructure and treat as many people as possible. As a result, those designing the infrastructure have a clear picture of where we need to go, which is a great start. For now, EHR systems are helping control the spread of the Coronavirus and simplifying doctor visits for the medical staff and the patient. 

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