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Unbound Potential of Electronic Health Records

The main arguments supporting widespread adoption of electronic health records are well documented; accurate prescriptions, seamless transfer of imaging and diagnostics, access to vital health information anywhere on the planet, paperless hospitals and doctors offices, and dosing/prescription error notifications. Also well-known are the efforts to take advantage of the volumes of data that can be gathered; disease management strategies based on your personal characteristics (age, race, medical history, even genetics), quality initiatives in inpatient care, and telemedicine.

A very interesting NEJM article summarized another EHR use, where an internal medicine practice documented exactly how much time their primary care physicians dedicated to ‘outside’ work not involving a patient. ON TOP of 18.1 visits, the snapshot finds that each physician performs, per day:

-23.7 telephone calls, most of which the doc handled directly
-16.8 emails, most for interpreting test results
-12.1 prescription refills, not including those part of a patient visit
-19.5 lab reports
-11.1 imaging reports
-13.9 consult reports

Not only does this data shed light on today’s problem of the actual duties assigned to an overworked primary care physician, but highlights the opportunity to maximize productivity across any aspect of the health care system. Transparency has the ability to maximize efficiency and minimize waste, and will allow us to invest our resources most appropriately. In a country with over double the average per capita spending on health care at nearly 18% of GDP (and vastly lower health outcomes in multiple categories), studies like this truly exhibit the unbound potential of EHRs and HIT.

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