An electronic health record (EHR) is a real-time digital, or electronic, version of your medical history. EHRs are also sometimes called a personal health record or an electronic medical record. They are not the same, however, as a medial chart.
The software, with versions offered by several health information technology companies, makes your health information available on computers and mobile devices instantly and securely to authorized users – you, your doctor, nurses, and other members of your healthcare team. You can also give access to family members.
Your EHR can include your entire medical and treatment history, such as diagnoses of any diseases or conditions, a record of any time you’ve spent in a hospital, surgeries or procedures you’ve had, medications you take, treatment plans, immunization dates, any allergies you may have, and even x-ray images and test results. Your healthcare providers can add information to your EHR, and so can you.
EHRs can help you participate in your healthcare. You may have access to online health tools – or sync mobile applications – that can track information about your health and help your healthcare providers make decisions about your health problems. For instance, if you have diabetes and your blood sugar measurements continue to spike, swing wildly, or often come up too low, your doctor can suggest changes to your medication or lifestyle, before you have a serious health crisis.
If you need to see another healthcare provider, other than your primary doctor, your EHR allows your health information to be shared with laboratories, specialists, medical imaging facilities, pharmacies, emergency departments, health clinics, and hospitals. This way, all of your healthcare providers have the same information about your health history, can better coordinate your care, and improve the quality, accuracy, and convenience of your care. More importantly, all of your healthcare providers having access to your health information through an EHR makes it easier to catch potential medication allergies or drug interactions and reduce the chances of medical error, duplications of tests, and delays in treatment.
The technology can replace the clumsy, timely, sometimes illegible – and often insecure – practice of keeping paper records about your healthcare. For example, if your doctor’s office sends your personal health information to a fax number you give them, do they really know you’re on the other end of the line to receive the records? How many times have you walked by a fax machine at work and saw sensitive information just sitting there?
You can use an EHR to keep your entire family’s medical history. Your children or spouse may have records with several different doctors, such as a primary care doctor, a heart doctor, and a neurologist. Your family may have prescriptions filled at more than one pharmacy. No doubt, your family members haven’t used the same laboratories and other testing facilities over the years.
Because many EHRs have apps for mobile devices, your, and your family's, health information can travel with you, wherever you go, and be available whenever you or a healthcare provider needs it. They also help you take responsibility for your health and work with your healthcare team to make the right decisions for you.
March 03, 2015
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA