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Chris Nerney


Electronic medical records (EMRs) provide healthcare professionals with vital patient medical information that can help them choose the proper course of treatment and avoid unnecessary tests or procedures.

Not surprisingly, the widespread adoption of EMRs over the past decade has increased patient safety and led to better outcomes while reducing costs. In an article published in Harvard Business Review, two medical professionals at Virginia Mason Medical Center (VMMC) explain how EMRs are making an even bigger impact on healthcare.

“Just as the cell phone, originally designed as a mobile communication device, has been adapted to an unimagined array of additional functions, the EMR is serving as a platform for innovation and creativity,” write A. James Bender, medical director for clinical informatics, and Robert S. Mecklenburg, medical director of the Center for Health Care Solutions. “Some of these innovations include 1) detailed prompts and reminders to avoid omissions in care, 2) transparency to engage patients and families in spotting lapses in care, and 3) adding medical intelligence to computer programs.”

The authors vividly describe how VMMC uses EMRs to increase transparency:

“In the intensive care unit at Virginia Mason, electronic scoreboards in public areas display with red or green highlights the current treatment status of every patient receiving therapy to prevent the formation of dangerous blood clots in the legs. These highly visible screens enable patients and family members to join doctors, nurses and support staff in rapid identification and correction of incomplete care. Virginia Mason now experiences 100% compliance with interventions to prevent blood clots for these patients.”

Benson and Mecklenburg argue that providers best able to leverage the functionality of EMRs will improve their competitive position.

“Most important,” they conclude, “the best doctors will use the EMR to add the deep knowledge and protection of digital mistake-proofing to the art of medicine that they bring to each of their patients.”