How EHR Systems Will Change Over the Next 5-10 Years
At its core, an electronic health record (EHR) is a collection of patient-related information that is stored electronically. What began as a way for medical professionals and healthcare facilities to reduce filing cabinets filled with patient information in favor of an easier and more productive experience has quickly grown into so much more, largely due to the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. EHRs are the key to sharing information across healthcare networks, for example, giving medical professionals the ability to provide a deeper level of care based on both the information that has been collected and the ease at which that information is available.
According to the HealthIT.gov Dashboard, 83% of physicians in the United States were using EHRs by December 31, 2014. As with any type of disruptive technology, however, EHRs are still evolving. In fact, the systems in use today have little resemblance to the first systems from the late 1990s and early 2000s. It makes sense that this trend will continue as widespread adoption increases, particularly as certain concerns native in the technology today are addressed and certain natural benefits continue to take shape.
Security and Privacy Improvements
One of the more significant ways that EHR systems will change over the next five to ten years is also one of the most important. Security and privacy improvements will be a top priority moving forward. According to the experts at Experian, data breaches in the healthcare sector cost an average of $6 billion per year. When you look at the total economic impact of these events, things get significantly worse. Medical identity theft is responsible for about $30.9 billion in damage annually.
A large part of this has to do with the fact that data obtained during a healthcare breach is inherently more valuable than even stolen credit card information. A hacker that steals a credit card may be able to make a few hundred dollars in fraudulent charges before the card is deactivated, whereas the volume of protected health information and personal identification information they can obtain during a healthcare breach can be used to a much greater benefit.
If EHR in general has always been seen as a way to leverage technology to provide a deeper level of care to those in need, a natural change to the system in general over the next five to ten years would involve a much more organic level of telehealth integration. At its core, telehealth is a delivery method for healthcare and related services over telecommunications technologies.
With telehealth integration, patients and their healthcare professionals can be linked remotely, breaking down the natural barrier of geography at the same time. A doctor can provide care to a patient in a remote rural area, for example, essentially paving the way for a remote consultation to occur within the electronic health record system itself. While the technology already exists for a doctor to examine a patient over video conference, EHR integration is required to actually collect and document the findings of those remote consultations.
Open API Adoption
Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are sets of protocols that govern how software applications communicate with each other and share data. While many industries frequently use open APIs—those available publicly that allow developers to access and work with proprietary software—there are inherent challenges adopting them in the healthcare space.
But as the Harvard Business Review reports, not only would open APIs give patients better understanding of and control over their own care, but they would also help providers make clinical decisions, and accelerate research and innovation industry-wide.
In an effort to gain greater understanding of the concerns and benefits of open APIs for the healthcare market, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) launched a Joint API Task Force. The task force was created to identify certain privacy and security-related issues that prevent healthcare facilities from adopting open APIs, and to establish a set of recommendations that will help consumers use open APIs to access patient data while maintaining the required privacy and security levels. In the group's most recent hearing, the panel discussed the possibility of a certification process for any applications accessing the API, which would ensure reliability and security.
A Move to the Cloud, Mobile, and Beyond
If the major benefit of EHR systems is that patient information is now available anywhere at any time, it makes sense that this particular trend is one that will continue thanks to the rise in popularity of not only a cloud-based infrastructure, but also mobile computing. Armed with only a smartphone or tablet, a healthcare professional in the field can be as productive as they would be in a clinical environment.
As security and privacy challenges are solved, more electronic health records will be stored in the cloud. Devices like smartwatches will track and upload patient information directly to the cloud, allowing providers to remotely monitor patients.
Advancing EHR technology and solving some of the lingering challenges and barriers to adoption will hopefully allow providers to offer a deeper level of care to a greater number of patients, which will ultimately improve patient outcomes.