The EHR: A silver bullet?

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Lisa Fratt, Editor

The original silver bullet was endowed with mythical powers and provided the only means of slaying werewolves, witches and monsters. Today, healthcare is haunted by demons of a different ilk; spiraling costs and mediocre patient care are fodder for nightmares for physicians, policymakers and patients alike.

Over the last few decades, health IT has promulgated its fair share of silver bullets--technology endowed with fantastic abilities to both improve patient care and cut costs. For instance digital image management re-invented radiology, ushering in a new era of image-informed care across the enterprise.

With the economy teetering on the brink of a double-dip economic recession and healthcare costs and miscues splashed across the headlines, it may be time for another silver bullet.

The electronic health record could be the just the weapon. A host of recent studies reiterate what University of Washington researchers found when they compared paper-based and EHR-powered electronic management of post-transplant medication. The EHR transforms the care process, producing better patient outcomes at lower cost with greater efficiency.

In reality, 21st century healthcare is not a fairy tale, and there is no simple fix for its woes. Solution(s) are difficult and require meticulous planning, ongoing education, training and, in many cases, a complete workflow re-boot.

Yet, the stage is set for the next silver bullet. Naysayers may disagree, but the final rule for meaningful use brings meaningful deployment within realistic reach for many providers. As organizations wrangle with details, providers need to choose their EHR weapon carefully, factoring in practice patterns, workflows and long-term goals in addition to calculating incentives.

And as the EHR story continues, research will continue to show how it slays--or at least tames—healthcare’s demons.

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