What is an EHR System & Why is it Important?

By March 22, 2017
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What is an EHR?

An EHR, or electronic health record, is a digital version of a patient’s chart that’s meant to be shared between healthcare providers. It contains the patient’s comprehensive medical history, from allergies and radiology images to lab results. Electronic health records allow a patient’s holistic view of their care and treatment to move with them to behavioral health specialists, labs, emergency rooms, and even across state lines.

What is an EHR system?

An EHR system is a software system that serves as a digital file cabinet by securely housing and organizing patient data. An EHR system offers streamlined sharing of real-time patient information that’s up to date and accessible across an entire organization. This accessibility to patient data by clinicians and billing staff helps to coordinate care and administrative work, thus helping to improve patient care overall.

A fully integrated EHR system offers everything a healthcare agency needs to support its clients and clinicians as well as its administrative and other business needs. It includes:

  • Clinical data such as clinician notes, test results, diagnoses, and treatments
  • A comprehensive billing system that automatically generates accurate billings from clinicians’ notes and facilitates managing the revenue cycle
  • A client engagement system that on-boards new clients, schedules appointments, reminds clients of appointment dates and times, and allows clients access to their records
  • A complete reporting system that generates a wide variety of customized reports for decision-making, measuring outcomes, and producing reports for audits and regulatory requirements

Why is EHR technology important?

EHR technology is important because it helps to improve the quality of care for patients as well as helps the overall organization run more efficiently. An EHR system can help increase the overall efficiency of your staff as well as speed up the billing process to get your organization paid faster.

The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) was enacted in 2009 to compel “Meaningful Use” by providers of certified EHR technology. While this is geared specifically for those who accept Medicare and Medicaid, it’s beneficial for behavioral health providers to use systems that comply with the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) standards.

It’s important for HITECH compliance to find “qualified” EHR technology. This is an EHR system that has met the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) definition of “qualified,” which is:

An electronic record of health-related information on an individual that: (A) includes patient demographic and clinical health information, such as medical history and problem lists; and (B) has the capacity: (i) to provide clinical decision support; (ii) to support physician order entry; (iii) to capture and query information relevant to healthcare quality; and (iv) to exchange electronic health information with, and integrate such information from other sources.

“Certified” EHR, on the other hand, is qualified EHR that has met ONC’s certification requirements.

Benefits of an EHR system

There are many benefits for both behavioral health providers and their clients by using a fully integrated EHR software solution. Some of the most important benefits of an EHR system are:

  • Faster access to comprehensive patient records allows clinicians and administrative staff to coordinate care, billings, and reporting. At the same time, clients can access their medical records and receive notices of scheduled appointments and other communications.
  • A more detailed and accurate record of patient care allows clinicians to create treatment plans and prescribe medications with a holistic view of a patient’s medical history, such as allergies and drug-to-drug interactions, enabling safer prescribing.
  • Improved efficiency is achieved through reduction in paperwork, quicker and easier access to data analytics for reporting and measuring purposes, and a streamlined process that includes in a client’s life cycle from intake to the end of treatment.

EHR interoperability

One goal of the federal government is to create a health system where a person’s EHR travels with them from provider to specialist to lab and to other healthcare areas, such as behavioral health agencies. This requires diverse EHR systems be able to communicate with each other and exchange data.

Because of the different ways in which EHR systems collect and use data, it may be difficult for an EHR system to share with another system. Federal standards and structure are working to provide a common frame for data capture and exchange that will allow for interoperability between EHR platforms and systems.

Next Steps: Read Our Guide to Learn How to Choose a Fully Integrated EHR for Behavioral Health