How e-health records improve healthcare: A cancer patient's story

Going paperless helped Pam Crum deal with medical bureaucracy

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The recently published results of a study in the Cleveland area that involved more than 27,000 adults with diabetes found that those with doctors using EHRs were significantly more likely to have healthcare and outcomes that meet accepted standards than those with doctors using paper records. In addition, improvements in care and outcomes over the three-year period also proved greater among patients in EHR practices.

The study included more than 500 primary care physicians in 46 practices that are partners in a region-wide collaborative known as Better Health Greater Cleveland (Better Health), which is focused on improving care for patients with chronic illnesses.

"We were not surprised by these results," Dr. Randall Cebul, a professor of medicine at Case Western Reserve University and the study's lead author, said in a statement. "They were influenced by several factors, including our public reporting on agreed-upon standards of care and the willingness of our clinical partners to share their EHR-based best practices while simultaneously competing on their execution."

Nearly 51% of patients in EHR practices received care that met all of the endorsed standards. Only 7% of patients at paper-based practices received this same level of care. After accounting for differences in patient characteristics, EHR patients still received 35% more of the care standards.

Additionally, almost 44% of patients in EHR practices met at least four of five outcome standards, while just under 16% of patients at paper-based practices had comparable results. After accounting for patient differences, the adjusted gap was 15 percentage points higher for EHR practices.

"These results support the expectation that federal support of electronic health records will generate quality-related returns on our investments," said Dr. David Blumenthal, the past National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.

For Crum, because of Georgetown University's EHRs, more than one set of eyes will be scanning her latest test results to catch any possible cancer reoccurrence. Each test she takes is combined with primary care physician checkups and specialist visits, so that "when one piece of information is combined with another piece of information, it might turn out to be significant," she said.

"It gives me the reassurance that if I were to have a cancer reoccurrence it would be caught early on," she said. "The earlier you detect a reoccurrence of cancer, the better the chances are of taking care of it and having it not be a life-threatening issue. It improves the efficiency and quality of medical care. There's also less chance of information getting lost along the way.

"To me, it's just better for everyone."

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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