How ePCRs Improve Communication, Care, and EMS Operations
Modern health care is an information-rich endeavor. Along the entire spectrum of care – from prehospital all the way to discharge and follow-up – patient data is critical in helping providers make the proper diagnosis and plan the next appropriate step in care. Similarly, operational data for health care agencies is vital in improving the quality of care, driving down costs, and optimizing efficiencies. Statistical information on most common cases, trends in a community, and budgetary forecasts help drive health care forward and ensure providers are always prepared for what might lie ahead.
In addition to these overarching uses of data, healthcare providers are surrounded by a sea of data in their work. Whether from an extensive collection of chirping and beeping medical devices, regular patient stat updates, records handed off at the end of a shift, or an urgently shared summary in the ED from paramedic to physician – important information is constantly flowing. No longer can paper notes and scratched down info keep pace with the amount of helpful (yet potentially overwhelming) data that follows a patient through his or her journey.
This is where electronic health records, or more recently known as electronic patient care records (ePCRs), come into play. It’s no surprise that digital records – and the powerful software tools that help make the most of the information they contain – can help health care providers improve their care and operations in numerous ways. With the right infrastructure, ePCRs can help providers deliver better care, optimize processes and procedures, get reimbursed more quickly, and extract more understanding about their communities’ characteristics.
Communication Challenges Between EMS and Hospitals or Receiving Facilities
One of the most daunting information gaps that must be bridged daily by health care providers is the handoff between EMS agencies and the receiving emergency department. Not only does it take place in a potentially high-stress, bustling setting, but it is one of the most critical moments in the patient’s journey of care. The paramedics’ key insight can save valuable time for ED providers as they get up to speed but offer a complete picture of what the patient is experiencing, including small clues that might not be presenting in the ED.
Drawbacks of Analog Pen & Paper Solutions
Hospitals and EMS agencies alike had long depended on handwritten notes and forms to share information. This presented numerous challenges, including legibility issues, missing paperwork, and lack of completion of documentation. Time was wasted finding missing information, following up for clarification, and trying to decipher handwriting. And later, others – like EMTs back at their station or hospital employees working in medical records or billing – had to reinter data by hand from paper records to be used in their own systems.
In the early 1990s, the adoption of ePCRs began in hospitals, although with little regulations or oversight. With the establishment of the HIPPA in 1996, the framework was established for a more standardized approach to ePCRs. Yet, the adoption of ePCRs was still slow; in 2010, hospital-owned outpatient clinics had only a 55% adoption rate, and only 29% of independently owned clinics were using ePCRs. However, adoption ramped up significantly in the next five years, and by 2015, the adoption rate for hospital clinics reached 92% and nearly 80% for independent clinics. The benefits of digital records – from timesaving to fewer errors – could not be ignored by health agencies wanting to drive their operations forward.
Outdated Technology Also Creates Communication Gaps
As the adoption of ePCRs has ramped up in the last 30 years, the technology behind using digital records in health care has evolved along with it. However, on-boarding an entire EMS agency to a new records system takes an extensive, coordinated effort and some agencies today find themselves working today with outdated ePCR systems that leave much to be desired.
While some require tedious workarounds, others ask users to enter duplicate information in multiple places or make it difficult to integrate with other EMS tools. Some lack the useful analytics and reporting features that make agency data genuinely actionable, leaving tons of rick data sitting in a system with little ability to process and share it. While digital records are still an improvement over pen-and-paper methods, some EMS agencies miss out on the substantial workload efficiencies and automated analytics that modern ePCR tools can bring to the table.
How a Comprehensive ePCR Can Improve Communication
For EMS agencies wanting to make the switch to their first ePCR software tool – or for those ready to upgrade from an older tool – the benefits of a modern EMS software suite are numerous and far-reaching across an agency’s entire operating spectrum. A modern ePCR tool can be deployed to a handheld tablet in the bus, with customizable patient forms and an easy-to-use graphic interface for documenting systems. The ability to instantly access online reference tools and dosing guidelines makes work in the field more accurate, while patient-facing features like language translator and e-signature help medics do their jobs more efficiently and safely. Alerting features can help automatically notify and communicate with receiving emergency departments to ensure they are prepared for the most serious transports needing immediate attention.
Back at the station, modern ePCR software improves efficiencies, helping reduce busy work and cutting down on errors that occur from data re-entry. Top ePCRs integrate smoothly with other agency operating databases and tools, allowing ePCR data to be shared as needed. For administrators needing billing and reimbursement data, digital records are readily available and easy to search and process. Finally, built-in analytics offer valuable insight into system operations, community demographics, individual team member performance, and much more. These data points impact a long list of potential QI/QA projects to improve efficiencies and outreach while also making it easier to report out, apply for grants, plan budgets, and check on progress to goals.
Experience the Next Generation ePCR Yourself
Thousands of EMS providers have experienced the benefits of utilizing ePCRs and the powerful, modern software tools designed especially for emergency response. With the help of automated features and easier-to-use data entry tools, agencies are achieving insight into their operations that make things run more smoothly and efficiently and help improve patient care and outcomes. Similarly, the data EMS agencies collect and submit to organizations like NEMSIS help move the industry forward, support important legislation and research, and shed insight into national health issues.
One of the leading ePCR tools is ESO’s Electronic Health Record (EHR), an intuitive, Cloud-based software suite that makes it easier than ever to produce accurate clinical documentation. Designed and supported by many former and current EMS professionals, EHR addresses the many pain points medics and administrators face daily, both in the field and back at the station. With a long list of features that improve operational efficiencies and patient care, agencies that have implemented these tools experience better agency processes, insight, and reporting. Additionally, a small learning curve and ongoing training and support make it easier for agencies to transition to a new platform and start experiencing the benefits faster than ever.