Electronic medical records

Many individual doctors are using electronic medical records (EMR) or electronic health records (EHR) and that’s what the government wants them to do; not only is there an incentive program for those doctors who are in compliance, there will be penalties for those who don’t. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 78 percent of office-based doctors had adopted EHR systems in 2013 up from 18 percent in 2001.

There is a difference between an EMR and an EHR; according to HealthIT.gov, an EMR has standard medical and clinical data gathered solely in your provider’s office. An EHR, on the other hand, contains information from all providers and is meant to be shared among them. In addition, EHRs are portable and can be moved between doctors, health care facilities and even states. There are several benefits of electronic records, among them better and more accurate prescribing of medications.

An offshoot of EMR and EHR is the personal health record (PHR). A PHR is accessible via the Internet and is generally set up by the patient, who can then keep track of his or her own care. An added benefit is that it may get families to also become more active in a loved one’s health care. The PHR is automatically updated and a patient can see his or her medical history quite easily. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has mandated that patients be able to access their health records electronically.

Electronic health recordEMRs, EHRs and PHRs give seniors more control over their own records and their own health. Many senior patients can’t precisely recall every medication or medical change they go through. Electronic records can help them access and understand their own medical history.

The good news is that Internet use among seniors has more than doubled over the past few years. That means more seniors are online and can take advantage of PHRs. The bad news is that some 41% of seniors do not use the Internet at all and 53% do not have broadband access at home. So while a majority of seniors ages 65+ can access the Internet, and thus their medical records if available, a very large minority can’t, and that’s a problem. These seniors risk being left behind in the modern health care system model, even though Internet-based records are designed make patients more involved in their own care.

According to a University of Michigan study, less than a third of Americans age 65 and over use the web for health information. Even worse, of those with who have “low health literacy” or have trouble navigating the health care system,  barely 10 percent go online when it comes to their personal health.

“The Internet is becoming central to health care delivery, but older Americans with low health literacy face barriers that may sideline them in this era of technology,” said author Kenneth Langa, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of Internal Medicine at the U-M Medical School and research investigator at the Center for Clinical Management Research (CCMR), VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System. “Programs need to consider interventions that target health literacy among older adults to help narrow the gap and reduce the risk of deepening disparities in health access and outcomes.”

There are ways adult children and other caregivers can help seniors make better use of electronic records if there are hurdles to adoption. Here are a few:

  • Check your local library, senior center or adult education programs for classes on computer literacy specifically for seniors with little or no computer experience. The senior services department in Manchester, for instance, offers free computer classes. The senior center also has computers for use for those who don’t have their own.
  • If your loved one has a computer, make it more easily accessible. For instance, voice recognition software can help those with arthritis or other barriers to typing. Other ways to make the computer easier to use include keyboards with larger keys or headphones for the hard of hearing.
  • Find someone who is patient to help your senior learn how to use the computer and navigate the Internet. If that’s not you, find someone else who can help, perhaps a friend or a teenage relative. Much of this may be new – and possibly intimidating. A steady, gentle hand is needed to make sure the learning experience is positive and encourages your loved one to make the best use of what’s available to him or her.

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The staff of Courville Communities has built our success on being the place for families to turn to when it’s time to consider alternative options for a healthier, safer, and less-isolated living arrangement. For more information, click here.

Electronic health record photo via US Dept. of Agriculture/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

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