How Electronic Health Records Identify Treatment Problems and Support Solutions

There are numerous benefits to using electronic health records or electronic medical records, and it’s easy to list them abstractly: EMR practice management software protects against physical file destruction, standardizes terms and abbreviations and simplifies data input, and increases efficiency for healthcare providers by about 6% annually. It’s clear that using electronic records has significant administrative benefits.

 But electronic records also support better patient care. Sometimes, this is because digital records can automatically check for negative drug interactions, or notify doctors of allergies. But on a greater scale, digital data collection and sharing makes it possible to identify worrisome treatment trends and work to reverse them. A recently reported example demonstrates the usefulness of electronic records in this capacity:

Unnecessary Hysterectomies Common in Michigan Hospitals

Data collected from 52 Michigan hospitals by the Michigan Surgical Quality Collaborative has shown that nearly one in five hysterectomies performed in 2013 in response to benign indications was unnecessary, Family Practice News reported Jan. 10. The review showed that 18% of the 3,397 hysterectomies that were reviewed did not need to be performed according to uterine pathology reports. For women under 40 years old, that number rose to 38%.

According to their medical records, nearly 50% of the women never underwent (or even were counseled on the possibility of) other treatment routes to avoid surgery. These would include hormone management, operative hysteroscopy, endometrial ablation and intrauterine devices (better known as IUDs). These methods were documented for 68% of women under 40, but were far less likely to be tried for women over 40.

Electronic Health Records are Part of the Solution

The researchers on the project say that a simple checklist assessing the appropriateness of surgical intervention could significantly reduce the rate of unnecessary hysterectomies. Previous studies have shown that when such checklists are used, it is far more likely that pathology, too, will support operations.

Electronic records can, therefore, not only reveal treatment trends, but also aid in modifying them. The report released by the collaborative notes both that these checklists “could help standardize treatment and ensure appropriate uterine-sparing management has been offered,” and that “the use of electronic medical records systems could potentially facilitate this type of standardization with relative ease.”


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