The transformative potential of EHRs continues to evolve in unexpected ways and affect surprising corners of the healthcare field. A new campaign seeks to extend the impact of EHRs out of hospitals and clinics so that they can serve the needs of first responders who make initial contact with the most critical patients.

Launched by the HHS’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, the campaign called “Health IT and EMS” aims to promote a dialogue about how EMS providers can make use of EHRs more widely and more effectively.

At present, many EMS providers already enter the health information they collect into an electronic documentation system like electronic patient care reporting (known as ePCR). These records feed into state and national databases but, counter-intuitively, they don’t feed into the hospital emergency department where the patient is being delivered and where the information could have the greatest and most immediate impact.

Even as hospitals have increasingly adopted EHRs, most of these systems are not interoperable with the systems used by EMS providers. HHS has identified a number of significant benefits if the systems were better linked:

  • Create a more seamless care continuum between the ambulance and the emergency department.
  • Enhance the quality of care EMS providers are able to provide by connecting them to hospital records about a patient’s medication, allergies, etc.
  • Generate data that could help EMS providers refine care strategies and develop objective best practices.
  • Cut down on the time EMS providers spend on administrative tasks so that they can return to the field.

Unfortunately, some obstacles have to be overcome before a greater level of coordination can be achieved. The proprietary nature of many EHR systems makes interoperability a challenge, and the time, funds, and technology to overcome this challenge are only beginning to emerge. EMS providers were also excluded from the HITECH Act, meaning that they have not enjoyed the same financial incentives to further adopt EHRs that hospitals and clinics have.

The Health IT and EMS campaign is connecting stakeholders to explore these issues and identify outside-the-box solutions that don’t require further input from federal legislators. So far the dialogue has been brisk, and a number of workable solutions have already been proposed. More localized programs already in progress are also contributing data and insights to the conversation.

What is clear is that the potential of EHRs to improve EMS care is significant. And with payment models increasingly prioritizing care coordination, the need for improved pre-hospital care is greater than ever. Now is the time for all stakeholders to make this a priority. Find the HIM professionals you need to produce innovative solutions by contacting MedPartners HIM.

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