Federal spending on financial incentives to providers who use comprehensive electronic health records will prove to be a waste of money unless clinicians are required to use EHRs to improve the quality of care, an executive with an organization that's an EHR pioneer says.
"An electronic health record needs to be implemented with clear goals in mind," says Gregory Poulson, senior vice president at 21-hospital Intermountain Healthcare in Utah. Intermountain initiated its first automated clinical records in 1967.
The key to making an impact with EHRs, he says, is to use them to ensure consistency in the way care is delivered so that quality can be improved. For example, Intermountain uses clinical decision support to prevent a clinician from discharging an inpatient until the physician verifies electronically that all appropriate at-home medications have been ordered. 
Intermountain also uses more advanced decision support to help ensure physicians follow protocols for best practices for treatment of certain conditions. For example, the survival rate for acute respiratory distress syndrome dramatically improved once physicians had easy access to online protocols that provided reminders of steps to take, Poulson says. 
"Consistency is the ultimate way to improve quality," Poulson told attendees at the Healthcare Financial Management Association's Annual National Institute in Seattle. He was a featured speaker in a panel discussion on quality. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Medicare and Medicaid will provide financial incentives to hospitals and physician groups that make meaningful use of EHRs. The ongoing effort to define "meaningful use" likely will spell out expectations for use of decision support.

This article can also be found at HealthDataManagement.com

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