How Electronic Medical Records Reduce Costs and Improve Patient Outcomes

Appeared in:
Smart Business LA County

A centerpiece in the national health care reform agenda is the adoption of the electronic medical record (EMR) that promises to lower cost and improve quality. This revolution is bringing an end to millions of manila folders holding countless pieces of patient information and scribbled notes. In their place are EMRs that can transport patient information in real time with the click of a button.

Smart Business turned to Diana Hendel, the CEO of Long Beach Medical Center and Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach, to learn more.

What is an electronic medical record?

Electronic medical records contain a patient’s full medical history in a digital format, allowing clinicians immediate access to secure patient data. With EMRs, patients’ health and medication history, laboratory results and more are easily accessible by physicians and health care providers.

EMRs minimize waste and inefficiency of manual and paper-based processes, maximizing clinical quality at points of decision-making and eliminating most paper used in patient documentation. Additionally, electronic medical records help prevent unnecessary orders and diagnostic tests, reduce medical errors and improve patient care.

How is it impacting MemorialCare?

All major MemorialCare hospitals have comprehensive EMRs, which translates into improvements in safety, clinical outcomes, quality and satisfaction for patients; a more efficient, accurate and productive staff; and greater satisfaction for physicians who can more easily retrieve complete patient information. At our hospitals, less than 4 percent of physician orders are written, thus eliminating almost all transcription errors. Turnaround time for initial physician orders of ‘stat’ medications has been slashed from 41 to 6 minutes. Fewer phone calls to clarify physician orders and increased efficiency means more time for clinicians at the patient’s bedside. And a million fewer sheets of paper copied each month makes us a greener health system.

The reduced costs that are associated with the electronic medical records have the potential to save the health delivery system millions of dollars.

Is there similar progress nationally?

While research shows hospitals that adopt electronic medical records have better patient outcomes, less than 10 percent of U.S. hospitals even have full EMR systems. One reason for this is the extraordinary costs associated with purchasing, implementing and maintaining an EMR system. In addition, reductions in reimbursement as well as an increase in labor, facilities, supplies and life-saving equipment costs are further hindering the adoption of EMRs. However, the ability to improve patient safety and quality makes the investment worth every penny. EMRs not only make health information more accessible to providers of health care, they also make health information more accessible to patients, offering individuals a more organized history of their health, much as Quicken has done for their personal finances. What’s the status of physician and outpatient electronic medical records?

While doctors and outpatient programs are slow to purchase EMRs for financial reasons, government support is likely to speed adoption. At MemorialCare, we are helping affiliated physicians implement an EMR called ‘myMemorialCare’ in their practices, and are launching other initiatives to ensure physicians with or without an EMR system can easily access their patients’ records. Outpatient records are also available to hospital staff during a patient’s admission, as combined inpatient and outpatient EMRs make for a true electronic continuum of care.

What can we expect in the future?

Once hospitals and physicians launch EMRs in outpatient and inpatient settings, they can take the next steps in connectivity to further improve the health and wellness of the community. As an early adopter of EMRs, MemorialCare is investing in online tools that allow patients to communicate with their physicians, schedule appointments and access integrated, up-to-date information about their health. Our online portal to electronic records will offer patients secure access to their test results, medications, immunizations, allergies and medical history.

How can businesses learn more?

Partner with hospitals and physicians to see how information technologies impact your employees’ health. Offer programs that educate employees and their families. Promote legislative efforts to create standards for sharing data among health providers. Encourage government, foundations and other groups to financially support health information technology acquisition and implementation. While the national economic stimulus to support evolution of electronic medical records is a good start, the road is long and steep as patient technologies move from access for the few to a necessity for all sectors of the health care industry.

Diana Hendel, PharmD, is CEO of Long Beach Medical Center and Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach.