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A Buyer’s Guide for Public Health EHR

By efficiently collecting data in a way that it can be easily shared across multiple healthcare organizations and leveraged for quality improvement, EHRs can significantly improve public and population outcomes. Beyond data collection, EHRs can help with reporting and surveillance as well. This, along with immunization registries and electronic laboratory reporting, can lead to the prevention of or a reduction in the number of disease outbreaks in a given area. Disease management is also bolstered with the right EHR system.

When shopping for an EHR that can support your public health outcomes, there are some things you should consider:

Price

Over the past decade, local health departments across the U.S. have seen their budgets dwindle while their expenses continue to rise. Because of this, price is perhaps the number one criteria when it comes to selecting an EHR system. To be sure the solution you invest in meets your needs, choose one that not only supports federal compliance and reporting but also local public health reporting.

Training

Your new EHR system will require your organization get up to speed as quickly as possible. You may have a large number of staff members, including schedulers, those involved with patient registration and checkout, Medical Office assistants, billers and providers, who will need to be trained.

Since not all training is equal, it’s important to recognize the kinds of resources your staff requires and compare them to the training your potential EHR vendors provide. Is online training and phone support enough, or will you need onsite training instead?

Also, once training is over, your staff will need ongoing support. Be sure to speak with each vendor to understand what kind of support you can expect once you sign on the dotted line.

 

Ease of Use

Since you are going to take the time to research solutions, ask questions, and consult your budget, it makes sense that the system you finally choose be one that is extremely easy (read: intuitive) to use. While an efficient EHR offers users the opportunity to maximize revenue, improve workflow and increase efficiency, you won’t see positive results if your staff members refuse to adopt the technology.

Make sure your new EHR system is easy to use, and that means for your least tech savvy user. Some of your brightest doctors and nurses may be technophobes – for them, a solution is not a solution unless it’s incredibly simple to understand.

Comprehensive Assessment

Local health departments are responsible for collecting relevant and up-to-date public health data, particularly information that pertains to community health needs, health problems, providers and policy makers.

Public health officials currently assess population health status through such measures as surveys, vital statistics reporting, and paper-based systems for reportable disease notification. But none of these methods provide anything remotely close to real-time data collection. On top of this, clinicians have a low compliance rate, which raises even more concerns about the accuracy of estimates made from this data collection.

The simple fact is, public health assessment cannot be efficient nor effective without accurate and valid collection of electronic data from the point of care. This data then needs to be easily shared with others in the community such as pharmacies, ER rooms, and vital statistics bureaus.

With this in mind, it is critical to choose an EHR system that integrates (plays nicely with) other reporting systems. Doing so means the ability to monitor disease outbreaks as well as warn of potential future health problems in the community.

Taking this a step further, the right EHR system can also positively impact policy development, making informing, educating and empowering community members about health issues much easier. Mobilizing community partnerships to solve problems while developing policies and plans that support community health efforts will all be bolstered with the right technology in place.

Research

Public health cannot be fully supported without thoughtful research. A public health EHR system offers many opportunities for comprehensive population-level research by improving data quality, collecting it, and making it available for analysis by others in the community.

Look for systems that are customizable and allow you to use the EHR to do things like identify patients who meet recruitment criteria for clinical trials, as well as communication and notifications.

Other Features to Speak to Your Vendor About

Since not all EHR systems are created equally, and few are specifically public-health oriented, be sure to speak with potential vendors to see if they offer things like the ability to:

  • Manage patient demographics
  • Manage medication lists and order sets
  • Collect external clinical documents
  • Generate and record patient-specific instructions
  • Order medications and diagnostic tests
  • Obtain support for specific drug interactions
  • Provide alerts for disease management, preventive services, and wellness
  • Leverage inter-provider communication (pharmacies, urgent care centers, ERs)
  • Access provider demographics

Conclusion

For local health organizations, a public health-oriented EHR system could provide decision support about community health trends while reducing the paperwork burden of public health reporting. And, from the public’s standpoint, these systems can increase engagement with healthcare providers, thus improving health outcomes.

Alex Tate is a health IT fanatic who is passionate about technology and its revolutionary impact on the healthcare industry. He adds value to the healthcare community by providing answers to problems faced by the providers. He is always hunting hot topics and opportunities that will open new dimensions in the field of Health IT.

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