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An electronic health record (EHR) is a digital version of a patient’s medical chart. It contains all the information about the person’s health situation that doctors can use. A person’s EHR would contain details about their health history, immunizations, allergies, previous treatments, medications, hospitalizations, insurance, and demographic information. EHR systems are integral for patient care since they enable doctors to make informed treatment decisions.
Unlike EMR (electronic medical records) software, electronic health record applications (EHR) allow doctors to share patients’ data outside their organization. This is especially beneficial in cases where multiple doctors at different organizations need to collaborate. Platforms for electronic health records facilitate seamless collaboration between providers, enabling them to exchange notes and have real-time access to patient data. This benefits the patients since multiple specialists can better pool their experience and expertise.
With the increasing technology adoption in the healthcare industry, it is no wonder that EHR software development is bound to see changes. The recent pandemic and advancements in existing technologies have pushed many medical software companies to incorporate newer features in medical records platforms. These have prompted the rise of newer trends in EHR system development. Policy and regulations, too, will be re-examined to accommodate changes to health records. We will look at the current ongoings in EHR development and glimpse emerging trends.
Why Do Hospitals Need an EHR?
Hospitals see dozens of patients each day. Each of them is bound to have different problems with varying medical histories. EHR solutions are indispensable for doctors to discern patients’ problems and make the right diagnosis. In this section, we will talk about the importance of one centralized, secure repository of all patient medical information.
EHR systems contain all the medical information about a person. Doctors can look at someone’s health records and know about their situation. At large hospitals, this enables doctors to provide care for multiple admitted patients and those seeking outpatient care. There are several reasons why hospitals need to have an EHR platform –
Large hospitals that handle many patients each day need to be efficient with administrative and clinical activities. The presence of EHR software systems eliminates the need to handle physical documentation in the form of medical reports or files. All the necessary information can be retrieved securely with a few clicks on a screen.
Thanks to EHR integration, different departments across the hospital can access the relevant patient data seamlessly without needing paper-based documents. In other words, the radiology department can upload reports to the EHR for doctors’ viewing, the billing staff can retrieve data on clinical encounters, and doctors can update charts digitally, among other benefits. All of this accelerates the speed of workflows and lowers the chances of human errors. This ultimately leads to a significant increase in the efficiency of everyday operations.
Patients’ medical information is confidential and vital for clinical activities. EHR platforms provide a safe database for storing, accessing, and sharing personal information. Security features built within such solutions provide layers of security against the unauthorized use of health data. Moreover, the absence of paper-based files minimizes the chances of data misplacement, theft, or destruction.
Government regulations like HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) mandate certain measures for data protection. In light of this, EHR solutions make it easier and cheaper for hospitals to comply with regulations.
Simplified Data Exchange
EHRs can be shared with providers outside the organization that creates and maintains them. This allows specialists outside the hospital to view a patient’s medical data and offer their expertise. Such cooperation is especially important for rare diseases or patients with extensive treatment requirements. Additionally, each department of a hospital can also access patient data for its activities securely. Such ease in the data exchange goes a long way in helping both providers and patients.
Reduction in Errors
Medication errors result from misdiagnosis or some crucial health information that a physician may have overlooked. Not only do they harm the patient’s health, but they also cost the healthcare industry hundreds of millions. But an EHR software solution provides all the necessary information in an orderly, compiled way. Moreover, it also makes it simple for doctors to upload the latest developments into the patient’s records.
The ability to deploy medical informatics solutions to assess the information in an EHR helps physicians with important insights. These insights reveal who might be at greater risk or highlight the early stages of a disease before full-blown symptoms take over. Such information allows doctors to respond accordingly, ensure better patient outcomes, and prevent any medical errors.
Lower Operational Overhead
The larger a hospital gets, the greater the operating overhead it is bound to incur. The use of EHR systems eliminates the need for managing physical documentation. This automatically removes the need to maintain physical infrastructure for storing paperwork or the need for dedicated staff to maintain it. Moreover, the existence of digital information and the ability to share it with other staff and carry out day-to-day functions also reduce the size of the staff needed. All these advantages ultimately result in a significant reduction in the operating overhead.
This is a major benefit aimed at the patients. EHRs allow patients to log in securely from their homes and view their medical information. People can see the results of their tests and scans, request medication refills, and some EHRs allow them to book appointments online. In other words, this makes the EHR into a powerful tool for patient engagement. When people are more aware of their conditions, they can participate in their care better. A good doctor-patient rapport is essential for managing chronic diseases effectively and helping patients recover from serious diseases sooner.
Important Features for Every EHR Software
EHRs are indispensable for patient care. They help doctors access important information that is vital for treatments. Companies engaged in EHR software development must conduct extensive market research to determine which features would be desirable. Whether it is a large hospital or a medium-sized clinic, there are some features that every EHR development company must be aware of.
Knowing which functions and characteristics to include in an electronic health records platform helps health tech companies direct their efforts better. Here are some of the most important features that EHRs ought to have –
A function to handle documentation in an EHR makes non-clinical work easier. Doctors and patients will be able to upload relevant documentation regarding health information. This could include reports, radiology scans, insurance information, previous prescriptions, etc. This feature removes the need for manually entering the necessary information, thereby saving time and effort for everyone involved.
Patients, too, can upload relevant documents to their health records to keep them up-to-date. This can be especially helpful for smaller clinics with a small staff, as they will be free to focus on other activities.
This is one of the most desirable features from the perspective of doctors and nurses. Charting involves filling out patient details into the EHR platform. This could include details about the nature of the patient’s visit, diagnosis, treatments, medications, tests, scans, and other medically relevant information. This is important to keep the health record up-to-date and is followed as a protocol at all medical centers. An up-to-date health record is vital for future medical consultations, as doctors then would be able to make informed decisions.
A feature for charting in an EHR speeds up the process immensely. Customizable templates to match the practice’s workflows, compatibility with smartphones and tablets, and verbal dictation features make charting fast and convenient for providers.
Online Appointment Scheduling
The ability to book appointments online is extremely helpful for patients. They can log in securely to their EHR portal and look up the available time slots to book one per their needs. Additionally, this feature also allows them to cancel and reschedule whenever they want. Missed appointments are one of the biggest reasons for the worsening of diseases, especially chronic conditions. A feature that lets people book and reschedule goes a long way in lowering the number of misses. The medical staff would have a dashboard to view the appointments for the day and carry out their activities accordingly.
Interoperability is when software can communicate and exchange data with other software developed from various programming languages and formats. This is one of the most important features that EHR development companies must include. The software that facilitates interoperability is called an application programming interface (API). It acts as a bridging software to integrate different medical solutions to enable the medical staff to work better.
For example – Practice management solutions can have an EHR, and telehealth solutions seamlessly share data. This electronic data interchange allows providers to use all three functions and better serve patients.
This is another useful feature that is convenient for patients and doctors. An electronic prescriptions feature within EMR/EHR software allows doctors to prescribe medications digitally. Doctors can use this function to send prescriptions to pharmacists directly without needing any physical paper. Doctors can also access patients’ records to view previous medications and make decisions accordingly.
Since this feature is a part of the EHR software, providers can view all the drugs covered by a patient’s health plan and prescribe accordingly. Moreover, some versions of EHR with an E-prescriptions feature also let patients request refills online. It is a win-win for providers and patients.
A cloud-based EMR software system would be installed on servers maintained remotely. The cloud services provider would carry out the relevant data storage, processing, and IT requirements. Using such an EHR removes the need to be deployed on-premises, eliminating the need for the hospital or clinic to spend on hardware and IT infrastructure. In other words, it lowers the operating overhead needed for EHR use.
The increase in technology adoption in the healthcare industry has led to a sharp growth in healthcare cloud computing services. A cloud-hosted EMR is becoming increasingly preferred over conventional on-premises ones. Its convenience and cost-effectiveness have resulted in on-premises software being slowly edged out.
Electronic health records contain confidential information about patients. There are strict government regulations that stipulate a certain minimum level of security. Implementing access controls is a good way to comply with these regulations during EHR development. As the name suggests, this feature only allows authorized personnel to access or share health records.
Implementing security measures during EHR system development goes a long way in ensuring the security and integrity of sensitive medical data.
The presence of a feature for billing makes it easier for providers to bill for the services they provide. This can be included within an EHR, or a separate billing module can be integrated with an EHR software alongside a practice management solution. This enables the doctors or other administrative staff to fetch data directly from the charts. Doing so accelerates the process of medical coding and generating claims to be sent to payers.
In addition to helping speed up the medical billing process, this feature also allows providers to update patients’ insurance information and address billing queries. The best part – providers or other staff can view each patient’s billing and payment history.
Last but not least, a good interface is a must for just about every kind of software platform. The same holds good for EHR solutions also. Companies involved in the development of EMR/EHR systems must ensure that users will be able to navigate across all the features and functions easily. A difficult interface makes it harder for the users (providers and non-clinical staff) and dents the reputation of the company that built it. Although not a specific feature in and of itself, user interface often plays a big role in the success or failure of software.
Steps in Developing an EHR Platform
Electronic health record software was the prerogative of larger healthcare organizations like hospitals. However, the last few years have seen smaller clinics and even some private practices adopt and implement an EHR application. It’s no surprise that the market for EHR has risen significantly in the last few years. This section will explore the steps involved in EHR systems development. Here are the steps that go into EHR software development –
This is the stage where the idea for building an EHR system is. The idea could emerge from market research, which would reveal the pain points in the market that need to be addressed. Either way, having a clear idea of the EHR system that a person or company wants to be built is important. Knowing what needs to be done paves the way for further decisions to achieve that idea.
In the case of a custom EHR solution, the idea is usually conceived when a client states their requirements for medical records software. In this case, visiting the client’s organization and assessing the workflows and requirements is good. This gives a good perspective on what is needed and how to guide the development process. It is important to gather as many details as possible during the assessment phase.
Minimum Viable Product
A minimum viable product or MVP is a bare minimum version of your medical records solution that offers something to customers or potential investors. This is important, especially in the case of custom EHR platforms. Building an MVP gives an idea of what customers feel about it and what is needed. This insight helps the development team chart a roadmap for further development activities. This includes the list of features, interface, and technology stack that would go into developing the solutions.
This phase precedes the full-blown development stage since the company would still gather data from its use. Any changes requested by the customer could be accommodated when developing the product further.
Design and Development
This is when the development team begins giving actual form to the idea after garnering insights from the minimum viable product. They design the framework of the medical records platform in the form of wireframes and user journeys. This will make up the skeleton of the EHR and will demonstrate the navigability between various features and functions. It would also help the project manager understand the emerging product.
Following the creation of the framework, the actual coding process will begin with a deadline determined beforehand. The development process would be broken up into multiple components, and each of them would be assigned to a programmer or team. A seasoned project manager would supervise the work of all team members.
The development can either be carried out completely in-house or have parts contracted out to freelancers. Although contracting tends to be cheaper in the long run, having everything done in-house allows for better management control over the process. The deadline would be divided into milestones, each needing to be achieved within a fixed period.
An integral part of the software development lifecycle, testing the EHR software ensures that everything works as intended. Once again, this process can be carried out by in-house testers or contracted out to third-party testing companies. The tests are conducted against established industry standards, and any bugs discovered are reported systematically.
In addition to testing the functionalities, this process also involves testing to ensure regulatory compliance. Regulations such as HIPAA stipulate a minimum level of data security, and the product must comply with it. Failure to do so would result in serious legal consequences for the provider using the EHR solution and the company that built it.
This is the final phase of the development lifecycle for an EHR solution. This is when the company that built the EHR would deploy it at the client’s organization. The installation is carried out by a technical team that also sets up the software for use by the staff at the client organization. Following the installation, the team would test it to see if everything worked as planned. If there are any glitches, they are noted and resolved on the spot.
In case of unforeseen problems, a team sent over by the company prepares a report and resolves the issues. Subsequently, the EHR solution is also integrated with existing systems at the hospital or clinic. This is done using specialized software called Application Programming Interface (API). These act as connectors between different software platforms made from varying programming languages and having different data formats.
Deployment of the EHR at a client’s organization, such as a hospital or clinic, is almost always followed by integration. It allows easy data interchange among the medical software to pave the way for a comprehensive health information system. Such a system accelerates and optimizes all the operations at the organization by enabling all the staff to fetch the necessary data without hassle.
Following the successful deployment of the EHR, it is important to train the staff at the client’s organization on using it. This process could take a few days to a week or two. Training ensures that it can be operated to serve patients adequately.
After it has been deployed at the hospital or clinic, the company that built it must ensure regular and timely support. This ensures that any downtimes or technical difficulties are manageable to serve patients. The support may be in the form of an engineer on sight or through virtual means.
In addition, to support in case of technical problems, the company that built the EHR would also need to patch regular updates. This prevents potential bugs from resulting in security threats, which might result in data loss.
Things to Look for When Buying an EHR System
Searching for a new EMR EHR software can be a cumbersome task for a newly founded hospital or clinic. Since the market for healthcare software is very large, numerous companies make medical systems. So, knowing what to look out for when buying new EMR/EHR systems is important. We will elaborate on that in this section.
Whether it is a large hospital, a medium-sized clinic, or a private practice, having an EHR boosts the efficiency of all activities. Choosing a new health records platform could get troublesome with all the choices available for newly formed organizations or existing ones looking for a technical overhaul. There are a few things to consider that will help in choosing faster –
Since there are bound to be a lot of options for buying an EHR platform, it is important to know about the companies building them. Providers or medical administrators looking for medical records software must research the companies they intend to approach. It must have a good track record in the healthcare software industry and a decent market share. Its clientele also speaks volumes about its products and services.
It is also recommended that decision-makers buying new EHR visit an organization where the company’s solutions have been deployed. That will give a good perspective on how good it is. Furthermore, it is important to look at all the reviews of the company’s products, both good and bad. This type of research paints a picture of what you will be paying for.
Availability of Support
Just as factors like a good interface, useful features, and price are important, the ability of an EMR development company to provide support is also important. It is not uncommon for software systems to experience technical difficulties or even downtimes. In times like these, the hospital or clinic must be able to provide the necessary technical support from the company that made the software. A company with a favorable track record for software development but a poor one for support is best avoided.
Downtimes in an EHR can severely affect a hospital’s operations. They have to be resolved as quickly as possible, and the best route for that is a company that offers good support.
Readymade or Custom-Developed
A readymade EHR software system would have a certain list of features and functions. This type of software is mass-produced and sold to a large clientele. That is the reason it would be relatively cheaper and faster to deploy. On the flip side, a readymade EHR solution would differ from an organization’s requirements since everything about it will already be developed.
On the other hand, a custom-developed EHR platform will be tailored according to specifications. It will be made to suit the needs of the organization that ordered it. However, since it is a custom solution, it would need to have its development lifecycle separately. This increases the cost of developing it, making it more expensive. Deploying it would take longer, and training the staff on it would require more effort.
Providers or managers looking for new EHR solutions must consider these two alternatives. Before choosing between a readymade or custom EHR software system, the previous two criteria must be considered.
How Does EHR Interoperability Help Providers Serve Patients Better?
Interoperability enables software platforms developed from different programming languages and having varying data formats to exchange data. This allows multiple healthcare software like EHR, remote patient monitoring, and billing to communicate without hassle. This section will explore how healthcare interoperability ultimately leads to efficient workflows and results in better patient care.
Electronic health records software is a repository for all the relevant medical information about patients. Providers use this to know a patient’s clinical history and prescribe medications or other treatments accordingly. Moreover, front office staff uses the EHR to verify a patient’s health coverage before the consultation begins. Following the physician encounter, the information in the EHR allows the billing staff to codify the visit and generate claims to be sent to the payers.
In the case of telehealth services, a remote care provider can view a person’s medical history before or during a virtual consultation. This allows them to better assess the patient’s condition and order tests or scans. The results of either or both of these would be uploaded to the patient’s medical records to be examined by the doctor. Subsequently, the doctor can use the EHR to look at the drugs covered by a health plan and prescribe appropriate medications.
It is clear that an EHR system acts as a central component in patient care activities. All the data required for activities surrounding patient care and medical billing requires the information stored in the medical records solution. Integrating an EHR with software for medical billing, telehealth, insurance verification, and e-prescriptions enables hassle-free data interchange among these systems. The staff operating them can fetch the data they need with a few clicks on a screen and complete the required tasks.
Let’s consider an example of the benefits of EHR integration –
A provider can offer a virtual consultation to a patient remotely through a dedicated application. They can view the patient’s health records and payment history and make the required prescriptions digitally during the live consultation. Subsequently, a billing solution can capture this virtual encounter, and the claims can be sent to the payer.
In this example, an EHR was integrated with a telehealth platform alongside software for e-prescriptions, insurance verification, billing and coding, and payment processing. Such a unified platform enables a relatively small staff to serve their patients effectively in a highly efficient way. There will be little to no paperwork, claim denials, or other problems. An electronic health records software integrated with other medical solutions creates a win-win for doctors and patients.
The data exchanged among the various platforms is secure and can only be accessed by authorized staff. It connects different medical systems into one cohesive platform that allows medical organizations to function efficiently. Broad interconnected health systems foster the fast and seamless exchange of important data. This ultimately results in fewer errors, fewer patient wait times, reduced claim denials, and improved patient outcomes.
EHR integration with other medical software enables a relatively smaller staff to serve patients efficiently. This applies to both outpatient treatment as well as inpatient care. This efficiency directly translates into improved patient care and overall patient experience.
Major EHR Trends to Watch Out For this Decade
The pace of technological advance requires all industries to be able to adapt quickly. Healthcare is no exception. Newer innovations and changing perceptions have catalyzed trends in all aspects of the healthcare industry. In this section, we will talk about some of the country’s hottest trends around electronic health records systems.
The hottest trends around the corner for EHR platforms mostly include some of the latest innovations in computing. They are touted to be disruptive to many healthcare technologies and even thought to improve clinical outcomes. Let’s have a look at some of the most promising trends in EHR just over the horizon –
Big Data Analytics
Big data refers to any dataset too big to be processed using existing or conventional methods. The data in this context could be generated from several relevant sources. Accumulating this data and storing the same is in itself a rapidly emerging trend in the healthcare industry, one that is aided by various advancements.
The rise of wearable devices measuring health vitals has led to an explosion in patient data collection. This is only increasing with each passing year. Subsequently, this has led to a sharp increase in patient data generated. As a result, assessing this data is bound to reveal important clues about diseases’ nature and symptoms. Patterns in a person’s medical information over some time indicate if they are at greater risk of disease.
The insights generated from analyzing big data can usher in a new era of predictive care. This will allow doctors to respond to diseases better and achieve better patient outcomes.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is the hottest buzzword in software technology. It involves programming software to carry out activities and operate devices with little or no human intervention. Needless to point out, this maximizes the speed of operations and eliminates any chances of human errors. Numerous automated healthcare solutions powered by AI and ML (machine learning) have been unrolled for several clinical as well as administrative operations. These solutions maximize productivity and efficiency by limiting human intervention. Combined with electronic medical records platforms, AI-powered solutions improve the speed of activities like data entry, data assessment, and charting.
Some of the more advanced cutting-edge AI-driven solutions include robots that can perform surgery and systems for automating lab testing.
Telemedicine uses digital and telecommunications technologies for accessing and disseminating medical services. It was only an idea discussed among medical professionals. The Covid-19 pandemic gave life to this idea, transforming it into a major aspect of healthcare. Telemedicine applications have become widely accepted not only in the United States but across the globe.
By integrating an EHR with a telemedicine solution, doctors can view their patient’s health history during a virtual consultation. They can also look at the patient’s test results and radiology reports. This bolsters the effectiveness of online consultations and telemedicine in general. PerhaTheest advantage of telemedicine is that it increases access to care. People living in distant, rural locations can virtually consult with a specialist without traveling far.
Internet of Things
Internet of Things (IoT) is a concept in which a network of devices equipped with sensors constantly exchange data. For healthcare, IoT-enabled wearable devices are fitted with sensors that measure vital signs like heart rate, blood pressure, electrocardiogram, and others in real time. These devices are synchronized with a smartphone application that gathers medical information and uploads it to the EHR. Subsequently, providers can view this data and observe the fluctuations over time to make a diagnosis.
IoT-based devices have been touted as highly promising for remote patient monitoring as they enable providers to monitor patient health remotely. Additionally, it has enormous potential for improving the quality of senior care. The best part – it will allow a single physician to monitor the health vitals of multiple patients remotely, making up for the absence of caregivers for seniors at retirement facilities.
EHR software hosted from the cloud would be installed on remote servers and securely accessed from a healthcare organization over the internet. The actual software and the IT infrastructure for storage and networking need not be installed on-premises. Although cloud-hosted EHRs are familiar, many hospitals, clinics, and medium-sized ambulatory care centers still use on-premises EHR software.
But the trend is shifting rapidly, and many medical centers have migrated to the cloud. This has stimulated the cloud-based EHR software development market, and numerous companies have begun offering them. The hospital or clinic can enjoy a reduced overhead by maintaining all the storage and processing capabilities at remote locations. Furthermore, this also ensures business continuity in case of disasters since the backups of the data are stored elsewhere. The cloud services provider handles any technical problems.
Patient engagement has been recognized to be an important tool for boosting clinical outcomes. The first step towards building effective patient engagement is making people aware of their conditions better. This can be achieved by enabling them to access their medical records quickly and safely.
Many companies that develop EHR platforms have begun offering patients access to their medical records over smartphone applications. This will allow people to access their health information and be more involved in their care journey. As more and more providers begin patient engagement programs, we can expect to see an increase in the number of people who access their medical records on their smartphones.
EHR platforms have become a hub for interconnecting multiple healthcare software platforms at hospitals and clinics. Interoperability only becomes meaningful when an EHR can exchange medical data with other platforms and vice versa. Companies involved in EHR software development have been conscious of the changes happening in healthcare technology and have evolved to accommodate the changes.
Advancements in computing and software technologies will usher in changes, and we are already witnessing it in a post-Covid-19 world. The end of this decade is sure to see existing trends become entrenched, but also the emergence of new ones.
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Written by Riken Shah linkedin
Riken's work motto is to help healthcare providers use technological advancements to make healthcare easily accessible to all stakeholders, from providers to patients. Under his leadership and guidance, OSP Labs has successfully developed over 600 customized software solutions for 200+ healthcare clients across continents.