Right now, all the world’s attention shifts to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Responding to this global public health emergency requires prompt access to and thorough analysis of data. And not just any data. It’s immense volumes of patient records that must be made available as soon as it is needed. To do this, the health sector must employ digital technologies in the public health response to COVID-19.

This is where the electronic health record system comes in. 

What is an electronic health record and how does it matter?

To define it better, an EHR or an Electronic Health Record is an electronic platform or version of your regular patient’s chart which indicates and includes the patient’s general health record and keeps track of all the treatments that the patient has undergone. It includes all the necessary data about the patient’s health like a list of past surgeries, medication prescriptions, medical issues/ diagnoses, laboratory results, progress notes from health providers, and other pertinent information.

To go more in-depth with an EHR’s purpose, here are some of its practical purposes:

  • It gives easy access. It’s a platform wherein medical practitioners, who have contributed to the totality of the patient’s record, can share such information with other medical practitioners who also are contributing to the patient’s health care. This is to come up with the most ideal health outcome. It basically gives the physicians and other medical practitioners who are involved with a patient’s treatment access to the patient’s health care record. Since the EHR includes complete medical history, then they can use it as the basis for their current treatment plan and exchange notes and progress reports as well.
  • It’s a repository of important medical documents. Medication orders and prescriptions can be placed here as well as requests for diagnostics tests. The doctors that are involved with the patient can also check here if the patient has adverse reactions towards the medications based on the recent progress notes. Aside from dosage management, patient consent, results, and related documents can also be added and viewed here.
  • It’s always available as long as there is the internet. The EHR is available instantly as long as you’re connected to the internet and with the server that you have authority to access. Since access is available, medical practitioners can make practical decisions for the patient involved especially if it’s something urgent. Current diagnoses, allergic reactions, and recent medication received are some significant data entries that physicians can easily check when they access the EHR and can allow them to make immediate treatment care that’s best for the patient.
  • It aids in the coordination of health professionals. Other than what’s mentioned above, Electronic Health Records is a great system wherein clinicians and physicians alike can develop a great coordination flow management and scheduling. For administrative work, this is a practical system that can help them with administrative functions, service requests, financial coding, and even reimbursement claims.

And there is more practical help that the Electronic Health Record system can contribute in the overall healthcare for the patient:

  1.   It allows remote patient monitoring.
  2.   Data Entry is more specific and reduces error.
  3.   Medication prescription is more accurate.
  4.   It brings better patient engagement.
  5.   It allows a more patient-focused treatment plan.

 How the Electronic Health Record can be used in the Global COVID-19 battle

Yet with Healthcare’s current narrative wherein we are still in battle with COVID-19, how does the EHR come in with all the convenience and practicalities it offers?

1.    Remote Monitoring

Because of the real-time processing, the EHR system offers, medical practitioners can now detect early complications, especially in potential COVID-19 patients. They can now facilitate triage and determine the best treatment care possible. These certain developments and diagnoses can be linked to the tools within the system to provide point-of-care solutions and can easily identify patients that are in high risk of getting the virus which In turn can alert the healthcare facilities involved so proper protocol can be implemented. Thus, early escalation of needed healthcare within the facility can be made immediately.

Telemedicine is also a platform for remote monitoring; assisted with the real-time progress reports within the EHR system, Telemedicine can be used to manage and provide healthcare more effectively.

2.    Treatment: Targeted Medical Prescriptions

The Electronic Medical Health Record system contains a patient’s medical history as well as all the medications that have been prescribed to the patient. Because of this important data, physicians can easily see if the patient has had adverse reactions to certain medications given thus can prescribe other medications and can prevent further complications. Especially with the COVID-19 in place, better clinical trials can be done, and better treatment plans as well. With the data that can be derived from the EHR, certain COVID-19 medications given to patients can lower risks of intubation and even death.

Since there are medication variants that can increase the effectiveness of COVID-19 trial treatments, these are being tracked based on the data derived from Electronic Health Records. To add to this, electronic records-based algorithms can be used to alert medical practitioners to improve medical therapies for patients to provide better patient outcomes. 

3.    Contact Tracing 

With the scope and extent of the COVID-19 outbreak, contact tracing must be taken to a different level than how it is usually done. The data that has been collected from Mobile devices, wherein individuals have filled out data for contact tracing can be linked to the Electronic Health Record is a way to manage data to track COVID-19 possible exposures. Individuals that have provided true information on whether they tested positive for COVID-19 or experiencing symptoms can be provided with immediate medical attention if such data is captured by the EHR and medical practitioners have been alerted accordingly. 

4.    Artificial Intelligence

Undoubtedly, AI has elevated health interventions in leaps and bounds. Ongoing developments are being done, as such Artificial Intelligence is now being incorporated into the EHR system to assist medical practitioners and clinicians alike to provide real-time monitoring to patients, with the real-time data being given. 

Because of AI in the EHRs system, physicians can now examine, manage and track progress notes for patients who have developed symptoms of COVID-19 and can detect the said virus for early diagnosis to provide immediate medical attention as needed.

As such, in patients with COVID-19, portable devices and implants can monitor patients more effectively and even with pre-symptomatic patients, early diagnosis can be made.

…But is the EHR up to the challenge?

Not all the time we can say that the EHR is on par with the demands of the evolving world,  there are challenges still. And with these challenges identified, it’s an opportunity for another round of innovation and improvement.

One huge challenge is the need to collaborate and integrate data and information from the EHR systems with the public health systems. This is so that intervention can be more effective, forecasting for different medical needs and equipment can be made based on the data gathered. 

At the moment, especially for COVID-19 data, it’s mostly uncoordinated since information between healthcare facilities is not yet interconnected. Interconnected data can level up health surveillance, registries, and medical reports. 

This is another challenge to consider. Since there is no interconnectedness of data, there will be a delay when the information finally gets through to the other facilities; especially when high-level alerts or notifications are being released. Like for a COVID-19 related case, when isolation is required, front liners are needed to be notified ASAP and in real-time, so that endorsement between facilities can be done seamlessly.

Success in leveraging the electronic health record in fighting COVID-19

Interestingly, despite these foreseen limitations, one country has maximized the use of electronic health record in battling this pandemic. Consider Vietnam, their Health Ministry has developed an application where the citizens can register for their vaccination; not only that, they can also make doctor appointments and declare their health status in the application—which anyone can download as long as they have their smartphones and internet connection.

With the data they input, it goes directly to the Health Ministry and can attend to the citizens’ health needs accordingly. But this is most useful when there are alerts for COVID-positive patients or even those suspected to have the virus. The Health Ministry can then take necessary measures.

 We can consider this a success in leveraging the use of electronic health records in fighting COVID-19.  

What we have learned so far…

With the increasing digital developments in healthcare, it’s undeniable that such innovations have improved how treatment can be done. In terms of contact tracing and getting the information firsthand, challenges still outweigh the benefits. But the fact that these innovations and technological advancements continue to exist and improve, there is hope that the health care system can use these developments to deliver the best possible outcome for the patients. 

Our sobering state now being gripped by COVID-19 should be a motivation for tech companies to keep on innovating. The Electronic Health Record system can be improved and developed so that medical practitioners and patients can fully utilize its potential functions, and consequently benefit from its optimal usage.

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