In many ways, the crux of patient safety is to ensure that individual clinicians have relevant information in front of them when required, in the right way. This means instantaneous access to the information that is relevant to the services they are providing at that particular time, in a format that is customized for utmost usability, while ensuring the integrity and confidentiality of such information.
A recent survey cited poor communication, such as exchanging important clinical information about patients as the largest barrier to achieving patient safety goals. And despite the fact that EMRs are an effective tool to improve the exchange of clinical data and, in turn, quality, healthcare professionals are not exactly raving about the effects the EMR system has had and how much they can help.
Let’s take a moment to soak in just how bad the communication is. According to the aforementioned survey, several respondents were asked how often important patient care information is lost during shift changes. A massive 56% answered always; often 12%. Only 27% said it rarely happens while a mere 5% said it never happens.
EMRs provide a simple solution to such problems, since electronic data doesn’t hitch a ride home in the back of a nurse’s mind at the end of his or her shift. Electronic data does not get lost when it’s mixed in with the take-out menu pile and it doesn’t get ruined when someone spills coffee on it. In short, electronic data doesn’t fall through the cracks unless you willfully refuse to look at and use it.
This does not rule out the impact of human interaction and communication. Healthcare is after all, a very human-centric business. It is pertinent to note that many safety issues could be avoided or minimized with an extra minute or so of one-on-one communication. However, communication issues still pose a fundamental challenge for healthcare. Thousands of individuals are involved in patient care. Ensuring that they communicate all the key clinical findings during handoffs – shift to shift, in-patient to radiology for a test, or floor to floor, to the lab and back – is a challenge.
The challenge that many systems are facing is the inconsistency in the choice of an EMR system between providers. Data sharing between different EMR systems is often limited and merely available in a read-only format. Whereas, if a single EMR system (database) is used by a multitude of providers, such limitations can be overcome. Consistent backing of EMR adoption by the U.S government aims to propel healthcare information exchange into a new era. The introduction of Health Information Exchange (HIE) aims to enable clinical data sharing across different EMR platforms throughout the nation.
Overall, EMRs can significantly improve communication along with the quality of care delivery. EMR vendors continue to strive towards developing a system which provides comprehensive safeguards for the protection of patient information. This is already a priority for healthcare professionals in the industry, but it is also important for patients themselves to work together with their clinicians to get these systems to the level they need to achieve: safe, accurate, and easy to use.