The Potential of EHRs: Big Data or Big Risks?

June 1, 2015 | Healthcare Risk, Quality, & Safety Guidance

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As EHR systems increase in use and expand in functionality, many healthcare organizations are using them as more than just a repository of patient medical records. As the above examples show, EHR systems now feature additional functionalities that can help clinicians provide better patient care. For example, clinical decision support tools can help providers make decisions about patient care and clinical alerts or reminders can prompt providers to check for potential allergies or medication interactions. EHR systems can also interface with other systems in laboratories, pharmacies, or the facilities of other providers and specialists to more efficiently send, track, and follow up on diagnostic tests, prescriptions, or patient referrals. Patient portals have engaged patients in their care in a variety of new ways, and patients can now log in to their own secure site where they can schedule appointments, communicate with their provider, or check test results.

With the large amount of patient data collected and stored in EHRs, one of the newest ways healthcare organizations are leveraging EHRs is to analyze that data to guide areas such as population health, infectious disease surveillance, and quality improvement.

As Amy Tsou, MD, MSc, senior research analyst, Technology Assessment Group, ECRI Institute, and neurologist practicing at the Philadelphia Veteran's Affairs Medical Center, explains, traditional clinical research, in which clinicians or researchers recruit subjects and collect data from charts, surveys, interviews, or other methods, can be a labor intensive process. With secondary data collection, "The data is already there, and you're tapping into it," she says. "That's what electronic health records make possible."

Although EHRs offer many opportunities for collecting and analyzing data, challenges remain. Privacy issues, interoperability challenges, and concerns related to how information is input into the EHR are some examples of issues that need to be addressed before EHRs are more widely used for large-scale data collection. This article will discuss the ways in which EHRs can be used for data collection and analysis, provide case examples...

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