Do EMRs really help?

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Various sectors of the healthcare industry have been calling for an electronic medical record for more than 20 years, with the initiative now gathering widespread support. Theoretically, the EMR will enhance quality of care, improve communication between healthcare providers and reduce medical errors. But, according to an article in the Sacramento Bee, written by Michael Wilkes, MD, a professor of medicine at the University of California, EMRs aren't the "holy grail" many claim them to be. Doctors and hospitals buy expensive computer systems from vendors who are not willing to work from a common language, Wilkes wrote. And, although EMR systems are designed to provide electronic reminders for ordering certain tests or updating vaccinations, studies show that doctors ignore those prompts 75 percent of the time.

Documentation is another aspect of healthcare that the EMR is supposed to help improve. However, Wilkes believes that some doctors are using templates which imply that numerous checks were done when they really weren't. Oftentimes, when a patient is seeing a physician for a particular problem, there is no need or expectation that the patient will be thoroughly checked. This allows for increased billing and can lead the next physician to believe things were checked that were not.

"This new approach to documentation has a potential for electronic forgery and dishonesty that allows for increased billing, and quick note production, but may do nothing to improve patient care," wrote Wilkes. "In fact, it may hinder care and could lead to major problems." He calls for data that shows that EMRs really can improve patient outcomes before adding EMRs "increase costs, decrease quality and push the practice of medicine further away from human interaction."