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Electronic medical record software was launched into healthcare with promises of better data management and analysis, and accompanying improvements in patient care.

And yet, over the last few years we’ve heard a great deal more about deficiencies than about improvements.

Were the promises of improved patient care just a pipe dream?

Fortunately, no—although we’re a long way from where we want to be. But recently, there have been some concrete examples of the types of improvements we can expect to see broadly once the EHR ecosystem is fully developed.

We recently detailed the experience of MediTouch user Dr. Kay Barney, who told us that our EHR software “saved a patient’s life.” But there is also evidence of the value of EHRs on a larger scale.

Identifying diabetes previously undiagnosed

Using an algorithm and analyzing biochemical data, researchers in the United Kingdom and the United States recently identified more than 63,000 patients with undiagnosed diabetes, reports an article in Health IT Outcomes. The team analyzed electronic health records (EHRs) from over 9,000 clinics covering 11.5 million patients.

Researchers identified 1,174,018 patients with confirmed or undiagnosed diabetes out of the 11.5 million patient records analyzed. Of those, 63,620 (5.4 percent) were found to have undiagnosed diabetes. This accounted for 12 to 15.9 percent of the entire diabetes population in certain areas of the U.S.

In another study, according to HealthData Management, researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center “have used… an electronic medical records system to identify patients with multiple sclerosis and collect data on traits of their disease course.”

“Most research studies have focused on the origin of the disease, partly because of the difficulty in ascertaining sufficient longitudinal clinical data to study the disease course,” reports researchers in the study published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association.

“Electronic medical record software may provide such a tool. We have previously shown that genomic signals of MS risk may be replicated using EMR-derived cohorts. In this paper, we evaluated algorithms to extract detailed clinical information for the disease course of MS.”

ROI on EHR software found to be quick

In another study, researchers found both that the return on investment for EHR software is faster than widely believed for primary care clinics, and that EHRs are vital tools for the type of patient-centered care now being promoted by CMS.

According to Fierce EMR, the study by researchers at Montreal’s McGill University found primary care clinics saw a quick turnaround on their electronic medical record software investments, sometimes recovering their money in as little as 10 months.

Revenue increased in part because clinics were able to see more patients per full-time employee, according to the researchers. “Our data show that the sampled primary care clinics recovered their EHR investments within an average period of 10 months, seeing more patients with an average increase of 27 percent in the active-patients-to-clinician-FTE ratio,” they concluded.

Also, study results showed “an average increase of 10 percent in the active-patients-to-clinical-support-staff-FTE ratio after an EHR implementation.”

In addition, researchers reported, “The use of electronic health records (EHR) in clinical settings is considered pivotal to a patient-centered healthcare delivery system,” in Return on Investment in Electronic Health Records in Primary Care Practices: A Mixed-Methods Study.

So, are we there yet? No, obviously not, with the interoperability challenges the industry has yet to resolve.

But these are the kinds of results that we all hoped for from healthcare IT, and which were impossible with paper charts. As the former National Coordinator for Health IT, Farzad Mostashari, M.D., famously put it: “…the provider can’t go into the room of paper charts and flourish their wand and say ‘All the patients with diabetes!’ and the charts fly out and hover in the air…We can’t do that on paper. But that is the essence of population health management.”

How well your EHR software provides real-time feedback about a patient you’re caring for will influence the lives of the patient population you’re caring for.

Electronic Medical Record Software Facts

The evidence above may not be the proof we are looking for to evaluate the competency of an EHR vis a vis population health management and influencing clinical outcomes, but this is just the beginning.

A recent Medical Economics survey on how EHRs provided clinical decision support found that very few EHR companies scored more than 8 out of 10 for clinical decision support, a very important factor in population health management. Only the most forward-looking EHR companies can do this now, as MediTouch can.

But It’s good to see that we are moving in that direction, even if we’re “not there yet.”

After all, as Al Pacino famously said in the movie “Scent of a Woman,” we are “just getting warmed up.”