Physician practices know electronic health records (EHRs) are vital in modern medicine. This is not only because of meaningful use requirements, but also because they can streamline workflow and simplify medical billing and coding. As it turns out, they may also have direct benefits for patient care.

According to Modern Healthcare, implementing EHRs can improve patient safety through effective workflow. Physicians who use EHRs and share the screens with patients face-to-face can see an improvement in the accuracy of histories and charting, Emily Patterson, assistant professor for Ohio State University's School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences in the College of Medicine, told the news source.

Furthermore, EHR technologies with certain capabilities can bolster safety even more. The federal Safety Assurance Factors for EHR Resiliency guides give health care organizations the means to address EHR questions and choose the right systems for their needs.

Patients can also benefit from the ability to access their own medical records electronically, including seeing their own lab results and annotated medical imaging files. This can help patients feel more empowered over their own care, and they may catch mistakes that might have gone unnoticed otherwise.

Meaningful use still eludes many
According to Physicians Practice, implementing EHRs is difficult for many physician practices, despite the many benefits of doing so. To meet the Stage 1 rules of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' EHR Incentive Program, practices must implement certified systems and learn to use them effectively. Practices of all sizes and specialties have had issues completing these requirements, however. Attesters are obligated to report directly from the EHRs they install, so systems need to be certified and able to calculate and report quality measures.

"Once they've committed, one of the areas that they tend to have problems with is overall care coordination and transitions of care and some of that is because a lot of those folks that they want to exchange information with are not on the same system, and the interoperability is still not there."

One alternative to this issue that many practices have used with success is acquiring an EHR system that can go well beyond the requirements of Stage 1. On the plus side, these systems can eliminate many of the issues physicians encounter with entry-level EHR systems. On the other hand, they are much more expensive.

Practices seeking to invest in EHRs of high quality should consult with their revenue cycle management partners to determine whether higher rates of reimbursement for procedures may be possible. If so, this can bring in enough capital to cover a good EHR system.