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The link between EMR and patient safety

by Sheri Ross, RN, BN, MBA

The adoption of electronic medical records (EMR) systems in Canada has increased substantially in recent years. According to the 2010 National Physician Survey (NPS), about one in six physicians reported using EMR exclusively for patient records, which represents a 64% increase since 2007. Although the uptake of EMR in Canada is low compared with many European countries, the NPS results indicate that the use of EMR is increasing steadily. EMR programs are well positioned to become the standard of patient care in Canada, as demonstrated by the fact that three in four residents hope to use EMR in their future practice setting.

One of the greatest benefits of EMR, cited by physicians and residents alike, is the patient safety aspect. “EMR makes it possible for me to provide more complete and comprehensive care,” contends Dr. Marcella Palad, a family physician from Orangeville, Ontario. Referencing features within her EMR software—such as reminders, drug interaction alerts and preventive care tools—Dr. Palad states that using EMR makes her a safer doctor, and helps to avoid having details fall through the cracks. Reminders alert physicians when a patient is due for a recommended intervention, such as a colonoscopy, mammogram or immunization. Drug interaction alerts flag potential interactions among medications, as well as risks associated with co-existing medications. Preventive care functions enable physicians to monitor and screen patients to ensure that they are taking a proactive approach to the patients’ care. By initiating contact with patients and taking an active role in preventing illness before it happens, or catching a problem early, physicians have the peace of mind of being able to provide the best care possible.

Another important safety feature that EMR may offer relates to lab results. In some EMR programs a single click of the mouse will generate graphs that illustrate medications and treatments prescribed over time, as well as patient lab results versus lab target ranges. A visual representation of lab results is a powerful tool to help motivate patients—it enables them to see the direct effects that medications or other interventions are having on their health, thereby providing a meaningful motivator to make appropriate changes or to maintain a prescribed course of treatment.

According to Dr. Gordon E. Riddle, a family physician from Bracebridge, Ontario, the prescription-writing feature is another key patient safety aspect of EMR software. “Before using the EMR, producing prescriptions was a time consuming issue and prone to errors of legibility and spelling. Now entering the prescription for the first time takes a finite amount of time, but as one enters it, the program checks with other prescriptions already ongoing and the patient diagnoses and listed allergies to see if there is a conflict,” explains Dr. Riddle. “This offers a level of safety for the patient and comfort for the prescriber that was never present prior to the EMR.” Furthermore, because it is recorded in the EMR, renewing the prescription can be done easily and accurately with all the same medication details as the original prescription.

Remote access to electronic medical records enables physicians to readily access their patient’s data from wherever they are. Whether they’re on call or at the hospital, an EMR program with remote access capability enables them to directly access patient records—which can lead to better decision-making and providing more informed advice.

Further evidence-based research is required to support the argument that the uptake of EMR use is positively correlated with improvements in patient safety; the anecdotal evidence, however, is strong. General practitioners Dr. Neeraj Bector (Edmonton AB) and Dr. Kelly Dyck (Saskatoon SK), as well as pediatrician Dr. Neil Cooper (Calgary AB) and general surgeon Dr. George Miller (Moose Jaw SK), provide compelling testimonies regarding how having an EMR program has enhanced patient safety. Hear their stories regarding how EMR has helped them to improve outcomes and patient care in their clinics.

Dr. Marcella Palad will be sharing her experience during a live webinar titled Using EMRs to improve patient safety on Wednesday, May 16, 2012 at 8 p.m. ET. She will discuss how features within her EMR—including stamps, reminders, prescriptions, searches, messaging and custom forms—help her to provide more complete and comprehensive care. Physicians and health professionals who are interested may register for this webinar here.

Sheri Ross, RN, BN, MBA is Clinical Director at MD Practice Software LP, a member of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) subsidiaries, the MD Physician Services Group of companies.

All physicians quoted in this article use PS Suite® EMR. PS Suite EMR is a leading EMR solution offered by MD Practice Software LP, a CMA company, which also offers the fully integrated® Health Portal, developed exclusively for Canadian physicians.