Gone are the days of running down to a dank basement to find a stack of paper files when someone comes through the doors of a physician’s office. Electronic medical records (EMR), managed with EMR software, have revolutionized the way patient records are recorded and processed. EMRs are a critical component of modern patient care and medical recordkeeping, but their adoption has been sluggish and difficult for many in the healthcare industry.
However, the EMR industry is a rapidly growing one. Allied Market Research, estimates the EMR industry will be worth USD 33.29 billion by 2023. While both client-server EMR and web-based segments of the industry are growing, the software as a service (SaaS) model is far outpacing the growth of the on-premises option. But where is this crucial software headed? Here are some EMR trends to keep an eye out for in the coming years.
Tech innovation continues to improve EMR software
While EMR software represented a big leap forward in terms of healthcare IT, the transition from paper records to digital archives has been marred by complaints and difficulties. Like most emerging technologies, though, EMRs have continued to adapt and improve to address complaints and become more effective at their intended purposes.
To improve these problems, many software developers are working on introducing solutions that leverage technology to improve existing EMRs.
For 2019, this includes the addition of tech that can analyze and interpret EMR data, as well as offer recommendations for how to deliver better care and reduce costs. Amazon, for example, is developing text-analysis technology that could identify inconsistencies in the way doctors take notes, like differing abbreviations across points of care, to create a more coherent patient record.
Microsoft is also expanding into the space, developing an artificial intelligence solution designed to improve patient care and engagement. These improvements come as no surprise given the rocky switch to EMRs that many healthcare providers have bemoaned.
The market will see a continued trend toward accessibility in EMR, both in terms of how the software is accessed — on mobile, for instance — and who can access the software. The main thing holding practices back from adopting EMR has to do with accessibility. EMRs are incredibly expensive — up into six or even seven figures for the total cost.
While hospitals and large multi-facility networks are given government incentives to implement EMRs, the same is not true of smaller practices. Post-acute and home healthcare providers have not had the same financial incentives that hospitals and physicians enjoyed, so their take up rates have been lower.
A lot of people lack time along with the lack of knowledge and training in health IT which makes utilizing an EMR correctly a challenge. And there is a big difference between using one right and just using one. EMR vendors will make their products more accessible to a wider range of practice types if they want the illusion of the hated EMR to go away.
Integration and interoperability
Another serious issue with EMRs is their lack of ability to integrate with other EMR systems. The lack of interoperability caused by an absence of data sharing standards, along with organizations engaging in data blocking, have created problems for patients who seek care from multiple organizations. This stress is shared by the clinicians who care for them.
Without a set of robust standards for data storage, access, and sharing, interoperability will continue to be the elusive unicorn of the EMR world. The market will see a massive public-private partnership focused on reducing the regulatory burden now placed squarely on clinicians and instead create an environment for progress toward true interoperability.
This is the year where interoperability is getting a lot of attention from the government, providers, and vendors. Hopefully, the needle will move, particularly where interoperability can help gather data for the physician that is useful at the point of care. If EMR vendors are paying any attention, interoperability and integration features will be at the top of their list for upgrades and changes in 2019 and beyond.
Searchability and ease of use
It is not just the ability to use an EMR with other EMRs that is causing trouble — using even one EMR is widely known to be something of a hassle. There needs to be more ease of use in terms of navigating through data. Despite how advanced general technology has become, EMR seems to be lagging behind in user-friendliness and ease of use.
The biggest challenge at the moment is to address the physician workflow and usability pain points. There is a vast recognition that physicians are overburdened with the documentation requirements. EHR and healthcare technology generally need to be better optimized so they can avoid routine clerical functions and interact with patients more fully.
If an electronic health record cannot be more easily searched, used and organized than paper files were, what’s the point? EMR needs to keep its users in mind and take physician feedback seriously in the future if it wants to shake the reputation of being cumbersome and disorganized.
One way that ease of use can be legitimately achieved in the near future is through standardization. The current standards that regulate EMR are very lax. If vendors are going to be held accountable for providing the features users actually need and upholding meaningful use standards, there have to be more regulations. And in order to make this happen, data standards should be consensus-based, transparent, well-documented and openly available in a nondiscriminatory way. And it is not just data and features that need standardization, there should be separate interfaces for physicians and medical billing coders.
What the physician needs to see and know about the patient’s medical history is very different from what the biller needs to see. When both user groups see the exact same screens when looking at patient info, it can cause miscommunications and confusion that can be life-threatening. Standardizing differences in how conditions are entered for billing vs for treatment — or separating those views altogether — will go a long way in making the systems easier to use as well.
Technology is progressing at a breakneck pace, and this will definitely have some impact on the EMR of the further future. As AI and virtual assistants like Alexa and Siri become more accessible and more powerful, they will begin to appear in the health IT fields. Virtual assistants are also coming online to help with those physician burdens, in particular, the aspects of the physician workflow issues that computers can streamline. By shifting some of the data-entry work off of the overburdened shoulders of physicians and other practice staff, some of the main issues with EMR can be mitigated without huge system changes.
Apple, Google, and Amazon are all entering the healthcare space. Their presence will pressure EMR vendors to innovate or perish. The large tech giants have the funds to invest in R&D and leading edge UX and UI without endangering their bottom lines. They have witnessed the problems created by the lack of interoperability between systems and will not make those mistakes.
It will be exciting for consumers and clinicians and not so exciting for current EMR companies. This competition might force EMR to make some of the crucial changes that previous sections have mentioned, or it might just increase the monopoly these tech giants have begun to form and change healthcare for the worse. There’s no surefire way to know how it will play out, but big changes are definitely coming.
EMRs have come a long way, but they still have a long way to go. What does EMR’s future hold? No one knows for sure what the future will look like, but it is expected that soon EMR will be focused on the model of value-based care as the industry switches over from volume-based models. In 2019 and into the 2020s, one can expect to see significant growth in accessibility, integration, and interoperability between EMRs.
Hopefully, the industry will take actions to improve the searchability and ease of use of their products — increased regulation on the standardization of EMRs could be crucial to this. The changing world of healthcare tech and tech, in general, will continue to put pressure on EMR to change and adapt, hopefully for the better.