Over the past decade, the use of electronic health records (EHRs) has exploded in health care.
In 2009, only 12% of hospitals used EHRs, according to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. By 2021 — thanks in part to $27 billion in financial incentives from Congress — EHRs were almost universal, with 96% of hospitals adopting them.
While EHRs have affected many areas of health care, one of their biggest impacts has been on nursing. Nursing students — including those seeking post-master’s nursing certificates to become nurse practitioners — must understand the importance of electronic health records, including the challenges associated with them.
What Are Electronic Health Records?
An EHR is a digital version of a patient’s medical history. Instead of being stored in a paper folder in a filing cabinet, EHRs are kept in a digital file. However, it contains the same kinds of information as paper records, including:
- Medical history, including demographic information and immunization records
- Clinical data, such as vital signs and lab results
- Prescriptions and medication dates
- Images, such as X-rays, MRIs, ultrasounds, and CT scans
- Plans of care, progress notes, and outcomes
If a patient sees multiple providers, an EHR may also include correspondence among them, as each contributes information to and accesses information in the record.
What Is the Importance of Electronic Health Records?
Although EHRs contain similar information to paper records, their digital nature offers advantages for many different aspects of health care.
Data is added to an EHR whenever a provider sees the patient or a test result comes in. Because records are updated in real time, they’re always current.
EHRs also make that data easier to access and share. Rather than calling a doctor’s office and requesting patient information, a provider with a password can simply pull up their EHR.
Care Quality and Safety
EHRs can improve patient outcomes. A 2022 study in the Journal of Healthcare Quality found that hospitals that had fully implemented EHR systems had 18% lower mortality rates than those that had not.
One reason is that EHRs help reduce medical errors. They can flag medications that a patient is allergic to, as well as potential interactions among a patient’s medications, reducing dangerous side effects.
EHRs can help patients and providers save money by reducing duplicate tests and treatments as well as overall paperwork. A 2020 study in the International Journal of Healthcare Management found that hospitals with basic EHR systems had 12% lower costs than comparable hospitals that didn’t.
Information from EHRs can help health care researchers analyze patterns in diseases and possible causes. For example, multiple studies have used EHR data to find higher rates of Type 2 diabetes in neighborhoods without ready access to fresh food, which can help inform policies to improve public health.
What Is the Importance of Electronic Health Records in Nursing?
Nurses are often the first and most frequent point of contact for patients, underscoring the importance of electronic health records in nursing care. EHRs can help enhance nurses’ productivity and effectiveness, along with a host of other benefits.
EHRs make patient records faster to retrieve. Because they’re better organized and easier to read, they can also help nurses access the clinical information they need more quickly, which is especially useful in emergency and acute care situations.
By offering electronic data entry in a structured format, EHRs can make documentation easier to access and interpret, and more thorough than writing notes on charts. Some systems automatically add information, such as vital signs, to a patient’s record, which can help speed up a nurse’s work.
At Care Centers, in Johnson City, Tennessee, a director of nursing reported saving up to three hours a day on administrative tasks after introducing an EHR system.
EHRs can reduce medication errors by tracking medications, dosages, and times. They can alert a nurse when a medication is supposed to be given or one has been missed. Additionally, systems that use barcode scanning of containers can notify a nurse if the wrong medication is about to be administered.
By improving both operational efficiency and patient care, EHRs can promote satisfaction within the nursing profession. In a 2020 survey at Seattle Children’s Hospital, 82% of nurses reported being satisfied with a new electronic records system.
What Are the Challenges of Electronic Health Records in Nursing?
Although EHRs offer a host of advantages, they come with potential challenges as well. Awareness of these challenges and how to overcome them can help nurses make the most effective use of EHRs.
Less Patient Contact
Time spent entering data may reduce time spent with a patient, particularly when a nurse has to break eye contact to look at an electronic terminal. One remedy could be dictation software, which allows nurses to stay engaged with patients while updating records.
EHR systems have learning curves, and nurses can get frustrated when they haven’t been thoroughly trained on how to use them. A 2022 survey of 16,000 nurses found that 41% felt their EHR training was inadequate.
One solution is to identify tech-savvy individuals to take charge of training and mentor other staff. A training initiative at St. Joseph’s University Medical Center improved documentation in various areas by up to 100%.
Several factors can lead to inaccurate or missing information in electronic patient records, such as:
- Forms that don’t include all the necessary fields to describe a patient’s condition
- Time pressure that leads to incomplete data entry or amending records at a later time
- Autofill that completes fields with incorrect information
Remedies for these problems include redesigning forms and double-checking information that a system automatically adds to a record.
The EHR system in one department or facility may not readily share data with the system at another. The most effective fix for interoperability problems is prevention, by implementing the same EHR system across a facility or a chain and replacing older systems at the same time.
Learn More About Career Options in Advanced Nursing
Electronic health records are an important tool in health care, making providers’ jobs easier and contributing to better patient outcomes. It’s essential for nurses to have the proper training so they can use EHRs effectively and manage the challenges they can present.
Advanced nursing programs like the online Post-Master’s Certificate in Nursing at Regis College can equip nurses with the skills to use the latest technologies to provide superior patient care. Learn more about how the program can help you pursue your professional goals by becoming a specialized nurse practitioner.
How to Become a Family Nurse Practitioner
NP Program Options: Online Post-Master’s Certificate in Nursing
Benefits of Health Information Technology for Nurse Practitioners
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Electronic Health Records
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