The whole concept of EHRs (electronic health records) has a lot of potential within the US healthcare system. When EHRs were introduced, they were supposed to digitalize medical record systems of hospitals- EHRs would take lesser space, records could be searched at faster speeds, and so on. It was supposed to revolutionize how healthcare providers interacted with medical records. Electronic health records were supposed to be easily shareable with other hospitals so that the patient can get the best care possible. For instance, if a patient shows different doctors in two different health systems for separate diseases, it is quite crucial that their medical record is being shared between all the parties who are providing healthcare services. EHRs were the next big thing.
Fast forward a few decades, and we can see problems that have arisen as more and more hospitals have adopted electronic health records. As of now, hospitals cannot do without EHR systems, but they are not exactly fans of the systems themselves. Hospitals and health systems alike are looking for means to make EHR systems work better according to their needs. However, one thing people forget that most of the problems associated with EHRs are external rather than internal.
One of the most frequent complaints about EHRs is how they can be time-consuming. For instance, a physician would rather want to spend time with the patients instead of filling up forms, identifying the correct medical record of the patients (which takes up a lot of time), and doing administrative tasks. However, the latter is precisely what the physicians are doing nowadays. Physicians need to be in front of the screens and click the mouse hundreds of times per day, going through a plethora of medical records and databases. All of these problems have contributed to physician burnout as well, which is a big problem in the healthcare system currently.
Physician burnout can cause a lot of financial losses for healthcare providers. For instance, research has shown that around $7,000 is generated due to burnout per year by a single physician. This cost can be as low as $ 4,000, while on the other hand, it can go up to $ 11,000. Overall, physician burnout costs $1.7 billion per year.
Another complaint regarding the usage of EHR systems is that there is no standardized data. This is exceptionally crucial for sharing patient medical records with other hospitals or caregivers. Even if two hospitals are using the same EHR system, there is no guarantee that they will be similarly saving the patient data. In fact, they may use different data fields to save the same type of information. For instance, one hospital may fill up the data fields of first, middle, and last name, and another hospital may only use first and last name fields. This creates a lack of standardized data. But why is this an issue? It would be quite like comparing apples to oranges. Whenever a patient goes to different health systems for various ailments, those health systems most likely will have a hard time matching the patient’s record, since each of them uses different fields to fill up patient data. Thus, the lack of interoperability is another complaint, as one hospital cannot use another hospital’s electronic health records easily.
Finally, one of the biggest complaints is the patient misidentification. Since EHR systems house millions of records for larger hospitals, it becomes quite impossible for the hospital staff to find out the accurate electronic health record of the patients. Common names, demographic characteristics, outdated addresses, misspellings, incomplete data, and so on are usually to blame for this. For instance, there can be quite a few Will Smiths within a large health system’s EHR system, out of which many can have the same city, age, etc.
Patient misidentification, or patient matching errors, is one of the most significant issues the healthcare system is facing currently. One out of five patients usually suffers from patient misidentification. This can be caused either by the patient or the hospital staff. For instance, the patent may be absent-minded and may not take the identification process seriously; thus, not looking into whether their accurate electronic health record has been chosen or not. Patient misidentification is causing a lot of problems for patients, as they are given wrong treatment, medication, undergo wrong surgeries, and so on. Some patients have even lost their lives due to patient matching errors.
However, the patients are not the only sufferers- healthcare providers are also victims due to patient matching errors. Millions in losses, ever-increasing denied claims due to sending bills to wrong patients, and a decrease in ratings are faced by those hospitals who suffer from patient identification errors. These financial losses are faced by almost every health system, regardless of their size. A study conducted by Change Healthcare shed light on the fact that these denied claims cost around $4.9 million, on average, for a hospital.
One of the biggest causes of patient matching errors in hospitals is duplicate medical records. These are created when a patient who already has a medical record in the EHR system receives a new medical record. This happens mostly when the hospital staff cannot find the accurate record of the patient- usually, the staff is lost in a sea of medical records, and as a last resort, creates a new one. According to AHIMA, smaller healthcare providers have around 5-10% duplicate medical records within their EHR systems, whereas larger health systems have at least 20% of them. These duplicate records are also causing financial losses- up to $40 million for any given healthcare provider. That is a massive number for any hospital, regardless of the size.
While talks of a nationwide unique patient identifier have been going on for quite some time now, it does not look like that it will see the light of day, since it has a lot of detractors, citing privacy concerns.
So, with all these problems, what are the healthcare providers doing to mitigate these issues? Many dynamic hospitals are using RightPatient- a biometric patient identification platform. It uses biometric data to lock the patient records so that it cannot be accessed by unauthorized personnel. This ensures the elimination of medical ID theft as well as patient matching errors.
Once a patient registers using their biometric data (irises or fingerprints), the system adds it to their electronic health record. Later on, whenever the patient returns to the hospital, RightPatient scans the biometrics of the patient and identifies the accurate patient record within two seconds. Several health systems are using it and are reporting reduced denied claims, reduced physician burnout, and mitigated losses as well as lower patient matching errors. Since RIghtPatient identifies the patient for the physicians, they get to spend more time on the patients themselves rather than identifying the accurate medical record. Hospitals such as Novant Health and Community Medical Centers are using it and have said that the patient acceptance rate is over 99%- even the patients are supportive of such a platform, which saves their time as well as their lives. Thus, it helps both patients and health systems alike.