As we begin 2016, there are those in the healthcare community who are not in love with Electronic Health Records (EHRs) or Electronic Medical Records (EMRs). It’s not the idea itself that is causing distress mind you; instead, it’s in the application. Since President Obama’s mandate in 2009 that all healthcare providers – public and private – adopt and demonstrate “meaningful use” of EHRs by January 1, 2014 in order to maintain their existing Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement levels, the challenge has always been in finding ways to both adhere to the process and make it smoother. It’s not been easy, but things are getting better. Meaningful change is always a process.

As evidence of the virtue of patience, let me ask you a question. Who amongst us wouldn’t love to drive a Tesla? In addition to being electric, gorgeous to look at and super fun to drive, Teslas boast all sorts of innovative technology. Visit the company’s website, and you can read all about features like autopilot and autosteer. The car even lets you change lanes automatically. And acceleration? It goes from zero to 60 in 2.8 seconds. Wow. Now that’s progress.

It goes without saying, of course, that the path from the Model-T to the Tesla was not a straight line. It is very possible that something like the Tesla was what those early engineers may have dreamed about, but initially it certainly wasn’t something that was feasible. Even physicist Nikola Tesla himself (1856-1943) – certainly not an automotive engineer – could not have foreseen something quite as exquisite as the machine that Tesla Motors has produced.

The march of technology is an evolution. There may be revolutionary moments, but its flourishing happens slowly. Tesla the man was a visionary. An inventor and futurist, he accumulated more than 300 patents in his lifetime and spoke eight languages. In 1926, he said this about the future:

When wireless is perfectly applied the whole earth will be converted into a huge brain, which in fact it is, all things  being particles of a real and rhythmic whole. We shall be able to communicate with one another instantly, irrespective of distance. Not only this, but through television and telephony we shall see and hear one another as perfectly as though we were face-to-face, despite intervening distances of thousands of miles; and the instruments through which we shall be able to do his will be amazingly simple compared with our present telephone. A man will be able to carry one in his vest pocket.

Visions of a better future state are an important first step in getting there. The smart phone so startlingly predicted by Tesla above is today not just a reality but an essential part of many people’s lives.

The Path Ahead in 2016

Advances in technology have changed our lives. EMRs (designed for use within healthcare offices) and EHRs (more complete records, designed to be shared with patients and between different practices/specialists) are natural applications of this technology. In one place, physicians and specialists have access to a patient’s test results, medical history, record of medical correspondences, and notes. Converting all these things from existing paper records, however, can be overwhelming. In the quest to adhere to the president’s mandate, it can seem like a thankless task at times. Driven by compliance requirements and deadlines, it can sometimes feel as though a medical professional is working for the EHR or EMR and not the other way around.

It’s important to think about the development of EHRs and EMRs much as we might the development of the modern automobile. Just as we had to experience the Model-T and subsequent automotive innovations on the way to the Tesla, so must we live through the building blocks of electronic records. Now that everyone is more comfortable with the idea, software companies are learning from the real-world experiences of those who work with these records. As we move forward into 2016, there are some exciting things to which we can look forward!

Going Mobile – Today, 64% of Americans own smartphones, compared to just 35% in 2011. Always on the move, patients and medical professionals are demanding ready access to their medical records. They move across state lines, visit a range of different specialists, and are more health-conscious than in years past. Developers are making it easier to access necessary information online, anywhere. Even medical billing software and practice management software is going mobile.

The Cloud – It’s all about increasing security, providing limitless storage and offering improved access. On-site services take up space, can be expensive, and can be susceptible to intrusion. The cloud offers a solution to all of these challenges.

Pharmacy Link – More and more pharmacies are taking advantage of their affiliation with certain healthcare systems – and with each other – through e-networking. Patients have easier access to the prescription medication they need, and doctors can more safely ensure that their wishes are communicated and fulfilled.

Compliance – The introduction of ICD-10 coding has been a double-edged sword for medical professionals. While it provides added clarity in charting on the one hand, the added specificity adds an extra bit of pressure when it comes to compliance, insurance and the like. Software upgrades and e-sharing allow for the reduction of transcription errors resulting in improved patient safety.

Upgrades! – The road to EHR and EMR perfection is paved with the opinions and feedback of those who live and work with them every day. That includes doctors, nurses, patients, PAs, specialists, insurance professionals and staff. Every interested party knows the ultimate destination, but they also have their own ideas of how to best get there. Experienced input is already having an effect on software upgrades and will only improve.

ECM/BPO – Enterprise Content Management (ECM) and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) are two ways to help work through EHR/EMR integration and implementation. Linking all your systems together through ECM helps manage content and workflow processes. Outsourcing certain functions helps streamline those processes and increase productivity.

Improving quality. Engaging patients in their own healthcare. Empowering more people to help make a difference in the way healthcare is experienced overall. These are some of the real results of effective EHR/EMR management. As we move into another new year, why not resolve to being an open, willing partner in helping pave the way to a new kind of healthcare. Do so, and that feeling in the air? It’s downright electric.

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Pete Ransome is the President of FileSolve, an industry-leading supplier of document management services & solutions. Pete is ranked as a Top 100 Healthcare Sales and Marketing Executive in the US and serves as the Chairman of the Professional Advisory Council on the Associate for Image and Information Management Board of Directors.

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