laura mccrary

No matter where patients seeks health care, the physician should be able to easily access their records, so they have a full view of their medical history. However, electronic health records (EHRs) as they exist today, are roadblocks to the delivery of high-quality, cost-efficient care. A main implication of poorly designed EHRs is the lack of information sharing. The way most EHRs are currently designed prevents physicians and hospitals from easily sharing information with one another. This means that every time patients seek care other than their primary care provider’s office, they are walking in with an unknown history.

To reduce the negative impact that inefficient EHRs have on patients, The Kansas Health Information Network (KHIN) developed a physician-led program to improve the sharing of timely clinical data, and ultimately improve the delivery of patient care. As an extension of the program to reach more physicians across the nation, The Physicians Foundation Interoperability Fund was created. The fund leverages physicians as leaders in disrupting the health care system for the better – with patients top of mind.

Laura McCrary, president and CEO of KHIN, dives deeper into why the Interoperability Fund is important in alleviating the burden of EHRs on physicians and the patients they serve.

Q. Why is the Interoperability Fund important in improving physician wellbeing?

Technology has played a huge role in streamlining our health care system. However, it can also make it harder for physicians to quickly adapt when working with technology that was not designed with them in mind. We’re seeing the toll it takes on physicians, as EHRs are the leading cause of their burnout. Whether it’s the significant amount of time it takes for physicians to input their patients’ medical records or the interoperability issues they run into, EHRs are the least satisfying aspect of physicians’ job.

That’s why we made it our mission to develop the first-of-its-kind fund to improve the way our system shares and accesses health records. This fund is aimed to support physicians by improving the process of sharing clinical information with other physicians along with hospitals through health information exchanges (HIE).

Q. How does the sharing of timely patient data improve patient care?

Not only is the fund important in alleviating the burdens that physicians experience, but it is also important in prioritizing patient safety. It’s vital that physicians are equipped to easily access a patient’s medical history. Oftentimes, most patients can’t recall their medical history.

There are also instances when patients switch insurance or physicians and when they are asked to recall their medications, they’re at a loss for words because they don’t remember. What do both patients and physicians do when patients can’t locate their medications? Physicians are forced to work with the little information they have. Due to the inefficient systems in place, physicians are at a disadvantage when trying to care for their patients. It’s burdensome for both patients and physicians, especially when patients are calling around for their records or even being charged for obtaining their own medical records.

An often-overlooked consequence of ineffective data sharing is the impact on patients with mental health needs. We’ve seen cases where a patient’s needs are documented in one facility and not reflected in others – causing a variety of issues. These patients may not get the correct medication or could be misdiagnosed. It’s potentially a factor as to why adults with mental health illnesses tend to die nearly 20 years earlier than those who do not suffer from mental illnesses.

Instances like these echo the importance of why physicians should have patient data readily available – the effects of not having such information on-hand can be fatal. With this fund, we’re looking to all aspects of health care – other organizations like community health centers, lab companies and even long-term care facilities to participate in the program. Efforts from all parts of the system, from health administrators to policymakers, have the potential to contribute to the improvement of the overall health care system.

Q. What is your hope for the future of the fund and what it will achieve down the line for patients in general?

Though we’re still in the beginning stages of the fund, it’s exciting to see that we’re moving the needle in prioritizing patient care. So far, participating medical societies include the Connecticut State Medical Society, Medical Association of Georgia, Louisiana State Medical Society, the Missouri State Medical Association, Medical Society of New Jersey and the South Carolina Medical Association.

While it is a long process, it’s important that physicians are educated on the value of participating in the HIE. Having health systems participate in the HIE can help physicians access patient data regardless of where they receive care. Addressing the issues that are linked to EHRs will ease the burdens that physicians face. Physicians will be able to work with the system instead of against it, adding more value to their practice. Once this information is shared in a timely and effective way, it will improve clinical outcomes, reduce inefficiencies and, more importantly, improve patient care.

Technology over the next decade will continue to drive the advancement of health care. But it’s also important that health information technology be designed with physicians and patients in mind. What we hope for is that when a physician sees a patient for the first time, they are in a position to deliver the best care possible because they have their full medical history at their fingertips. On the flipside, we hope when a patient enters a physician’s office in Connecticut, their information from their previous clinic in Louisiana will be readily available.

We’re calling on all levels of the health care system. Physicians have voiced their concerns and issues with EHRs, so it’s time we listen. This fund does just that, by making it easier for physicians to be their patient’s biggest advocates.