Doctor viewing an electronic health record showing images of diagnostic results

Electronic Health Records – Benefits & Risks

Source: Adapted from intakeQ ‘Are Electronic Healthcare Records Already Outdated?

The move to electronic records has been on-going for many years.
In 2009, the US Congress passed the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act to address some of the biggest objections to implementing EHR and aid healthcare professionals in making the transition from paper to digital.
In 2008, only 17% of physicians and 9% of hospitals had at least a basic EHR system in place. In 2015, the reported adoption of EHRs had risen to 96% and 78%, respectively.

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONCHIT) believes that health IT (in the form of EHR) has improved communication among healthcare providers and has also improved the exchange of healthcare information on the whole.
In order for EHR systems to keep pace with the changing IT landscape and patient demands EHRs are best hosted in the cloud, where updating and maintenance is much more efficient.

How “The Cloud” Impacts EHR

Many healthcare practices still manage their healthcare records in-house, either on their own server or by using a remote desktop to share information.
The problem is that a remote desktop connection can leave data vulnerable to cyber theft.
In-house EHR systems also need to be frequently maintained in order to prevent data breaches from occurring.
Not every healthcare practice has an IT specialist around to make sure the systems are updated. Therefore, it’s difficult to catch data breaches, protect privacy and update systems over time.
This means that even though most healthcare practices are using EHR in some form, not all of them are using the best technology to protect their data. Post GDPR this should be a major concern for any healthcare practice.
The alternative is to host your EHR system in the cloud yourself. Of course this can be challenging if you don’t already have access to an IT specialist. Another option is to hire a vendor who is familiar with healthcare and is already using cloud-based technology.
The upside to using a third-party vendor is that the vendor can dedicate resources to keep up with the latest cyber security best practices. This allows healthcare practices and clinics to use the best EHR technology without having to worry about a data breach. Of course it is important to make an informed choice and ensure quality services at a fair price.

Cloud Based EHR Technology – Benefits & Risks

Upgrading to EHR systems can be time consuming and may be cost prohibitive. It is important to remember the costs of a data breach can far outweigh the costs of maintaining and upgrading your EHR system.
As referred to above the alternative to updating your EHR is to switch to a cloud-based system and choose a vendor that has reasonable prices on hosting through the cloud.
BENEFIT: Data storage capacity
Healthcare necessitates working with tremendous amounts of data, even the most sophisticated hardware installations cannot handle all the data. Cloud networks allow healthcare professionals to store all the data they use off-site to avoid the cost and strain of maintaining physical servers.
BENEFIT: Scalability of service
Cloud based EHR systems can scale to increase or decrease data storage and traffic depending on your needs. Therefore a healthcare provider can fit their network requirements to match service demands.
BENEFIT: Collaboration
Where healthcare organisations who use the same cloud network and need to share medical information they are able to easily transfer data to each other. Such ease of secure data transfer is a huge advantage allowing for quicker collaboration to provide healthcare solutions.
BENEFIT: AI and machine learning
As more cloud platforms are integrating AI and machine learning into their services such functionality alleviates much of the burden in managing the typically large volume of data involved. Healthcare providers can use AI to analyse and derive valuable insights from the data in the EHRs.
RISK: Implementation
Switching from an on-premises installation to the cloud means changing work practices. Healthcare providers planning to implement a cloud solution must ensure that all staff are suitably familiar with how to work efficiently using the cloud based system. Otherwise, there are risks of downtime, improper handling of data or information leaks.
RISK: Security dangers
Cloud networks provide security tools that look for, warn of, and deal with suspicious behaviour. However, there are always security risks. For example The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights is investigating several hundred cases involving security breaches of health information.
RISK: Regulatory compliance
All health information technology solutions must comply with the relevant regulations such as GDPR, HTECH, SSAE etc. This includes security measures extending to protocols for patient privacy and breach notification procedures. The tenants of relevant regulations need to be understood by both the healthcare and EHR cloud service providers to ensure regulatory compliance.
RISK: Availability and control
Healthcare providers need their data to be available at any point, so any downtime of the cloud platform may have a negative impact. This is of course also true of healthcare practice owned IT installations. However if using the cloud based system, must rely on the cloud provider – not the practice – to bring the service back online.

Final Thoughts

EHR systems are certainly a leap forward for healthcare data over paper.
The key to using EHR technology is to upgrade to the most current system, if possible. If not, then looking for third-party vendors who have access to cloud-based technology at acceptable costs is an alternative.
It is possible to integrate EHR systems with other health IT to avail of more effectiveness and efficiencies.
Healthcare providers should understand the benefits of EHR, what the upkeep of a system might cost, the time it takes to transition fully and the benefits of cloud-based technology.
For more information on EHR technology, check out HealthIT.gov’s certification guidance for EHR

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