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Using EHRs to Improve Patient Outcomes

April 22, 2011
by Kayt Sukel
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Interview with Manisha Gupta, M.D., Partner, Questcare Partners, Emergency Medicine Physician, Denton Regional Medical Center
Manisha Gupta, M.D.
Manisha Gupta, M.D.

Healthcare Informatics: How were you initially trained on the hospital's electronic health record (EHR) system?

Manisha Gupta, M.D.: Denton was a beta testing site for T-System [supplied by T-System, Inc., Dallas, Texas], so there was a working EHR from the time I got there. T-System was originally a paper chart and one that I had used in my residency, so I was already very familiar with it. But once I got on-site, I played around with the computer version for about a day and then started using it with patients.

HCI: What was your initial reaction to using EHRs in the clinical setting?

Gupta: I thought it was awesome. It's fast, it's very clear, and it creates a chart that anyone can understand right away. Not only can it do these things, but it also logs all previous patient visits so you can look back and see what tests may have been done and what the patient was presented with then. It gives me a very fast and very comprehensive look at what might be going on with a given patient.

HCI: In the fast-paced environment of the ER, how do you juggle the system and the patient during an exam?

Gupta: I don't use the EHR when I'm with a patient. I see the patient, and once we're done I go back to my desk and chart the encounter there. I need the ability to go into the exam room and have a one-on-one interaction with the patient, look in their eyes, talk to them, and do my exam. Then I'll put the information in the system. For me, doing it this way is a lot faster.

HCI: Have patients had any concerns about the use of EHRs?

Gupta: The most complaints have come from our drug-seekers. They hate the system because we can see they've popped around to different hospitals asking for Lortab. That's where I've noticed the most patient dissatisfaction. Most of our other patients understand that we use computers for everything now and don't seem concerned about it.

HCI: Are there any examples when EHRs has helped you to better diagnose a patient?

Gupta: I could give you lots of examples. To start, depending on how sick a patient is, they might not be able to tell us that they came to the hospital a few days before. We can look into their record and see what tests were done so we don't have to repeat them, which diagnoses were ruled out so we don't waste time there, and what kind of treatment was given. Having that not only saves time, but saves lives. One specific example was a patient who came in with a headache. I saw on the EHR that she had been treated after a car accident at a different hospital a couple of weeks earlier. She hadn't told me about the car accident-patients don't always know what to tell you when they come in. But with the EHR, I could see she had already had a negative CT scan on a previous visit and set her right up for an MRI. I was able to then quickly diagnose her with cavernous sinus thrombosis and get her the help she needed.

HCI: What would you like to see EHRs do in the future?

Gupta: It's a challenge, but I'd like to have the ability to pass patient records between different systems. I can get all the records from within my hospital system, but they are not the only healthcare providers in this area. There are other hospitals, other doctors. Right now, we can't access that information, and it would be nice to do that. It would certainly serve the patients better if we could do that.

The most complaints about EHRs have come from our drug seekers…(who) have popped around to different hospitals. - Manisha Gupta, M.D.

HCI: What would you tell physicians who are concerned that EHR use may negatively impact their practice?

Gupta: Denton, as a beta tester, had been using EHRs for years before they rolled it out to partner sites. There was resistance from doctors who thought it would slow them down and who weren't as accustomed to using computers. But, in the end, by taking the time to learn the system, they realized that using them can really improve your practice. And, just as importantly, by giving you access to past visits and health information, using EHRs can definitely improve your outcomes.

EHR Implementation Bucking Earlier Trends

Four-fifths of the nation's hospitals and 41 percent of office-based physicians currently intend to take advantage of federal incentive payments for adoption and meaningful use of certified electronic health records (EHR) technology, according to survey data released by the Office of the National Coordination for Health Information Technology (ONC). The survey information was released in a press release dated January 13, 2011, by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), at the same time that the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs registration period opened.

Dr. David Blumenthal, the national coordinator, said the survey numbers represent a reversal of the low interest in EHR adoption in previous years. “For years, we've known that EHRs would improve care for patients and bring about greater cost effectiveness in our healthcare sector, yet adoption rates by healthcare providers remained low. I believe we are seeing the tide turn toward widespread and accelerating adoption and use of health IT.”

The data released came from surveys commissioned by ONC and carried out by the American Hospital Association (AHA) and the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), an agency of HHS' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.