The development of new technologies affects substantially health care services. In this respect, the development of information technologies is particularly significant for the modern medicine and health care services because they enlarge consistently health care services available to patients. In such a situation, health care professionals can benefit from the introduction of new technologies since they can provide health care services of the high quality and minimize the risk to patients’ health. In actuality, the introduction of electronic health record is particularly prospective in the modern health care environment because this technology allows storage and retrieval of an individual patient’s medical record in digital format. Today, the electronic health record can be vitally important since it makes the detailed information about the health of patients and their history available to health care professionals that contribute to the accurate diagnosing and development of efficient treatment. On the other hand, the electronic health record is not only beneficial for health care professionals and patients, but it can be potentially dangerous, especially in terms of the threat of information breaches and identity theft that naturally raises a number of legal and ethical issues associated with the practical application of the electronic health record in the contemporary health care environment.
The introduction of electronic health record has facilitated consistently the storage and retrieval of information about patients’ health because this information technology makes the basic information concerning the health of a patient available to health care professionals in a convenient form and in minimal terms. In fact, the electronic health record is a longitudinal electronic record of patient health information generated by one or more encounters in any health care delivery setting (Olmeda, 2000). The electronic health record contains the basic information, including patient demographics, progress notes, problems, medications, vital signs, past medical history, immunization, laboratory data, and radiology reports. In such a way, health care professionals can retrieve the basic information they need to know about the patient and his or her health before they start diagnosing and treatment of specific health problems in the patient.
Obviously, the application of the electronic health record saves time and health care costs as patients and health care professionals do not need to conduct examination and analysis to get the information, which the electronic health record contains. In addition, the past medical history of a patient can be very helpful in diagnosing and development of treatment of the patient. In this regard, specialists (Murphy, et al, 1999) point out that the electronic health record minimizes the risk of errors from the part of health care professionals and increases the efficiency and accuracy of diagnosing and treatment. In fact, the electronic health record automates and streamlines the clinician’s workflow.
In actuality, the need of the introduction of the electronic health record is obvious because the number of patients suffering from various chronic diseases increases, along with the overall number of patients who need professional health care services. Consequently, the electronic health record needs to be introduced en masse to improve the quality of health care services delivered to patients. At the same time, many specialists (Olmeda, 2000) justify the need of the introduction of the electronic health record by the growing need of reducing costs of health care services. In this respect, it is worth mentioning the fact that, in recent years, the costs of health care services have increased substantially, while the introduction of the electronic health record can reduce costs significantly. To put it more precisely, electronic health records are estimated to improve efficiency of health care services by 6% per year, and monthly costs of the electronic health record is offset by the cost of only a few unnecessary tests and admissions. Hence, in a long-run perspective, the electronic health record can be efficient, cost-saving, and simply essential to the health care services.
At the same time, the introduction of the electronic health record is accompanied by certain challenges and obstacles. In this respect, it is worth mentioning the fact that the introduction of the electronic health record needs the introduction of the respective technology and equipment in health care organizations in order to make the record available to practitioners. However, the costs of introduction of the electronic health record can be compensated by further costs saving on basic tests and availability of basic health information of patients.
Furthermore, another serious problem that arises in the course of the introduction of the electronic health record is the problem of the safety of private information of patients. what is meant here is the fact that the information which is stored within the electronic health record cannot be available to anyone but health care professionals, which are directly involved in the treatment of the patient and they need to keep this information in secret preventing any risks of information breaches or unauthorized access to the private information of patients. In fact, the information concerning the patient and his or her health should be fully protected. The latter means the introduction of the information system to protect the information stored within the electronic health record.
The introduction of the electronic health record will also need the training of health care professionals to ensure that they are able to work with this technology properly and apply it efficiently. In addition, health care system will need IT specialists who can maintain electronic health records, storage and processing of information, its retrieval and transmission along with the development of information systems to ensure the full protection of private information of patients. At this point, it is important to remember about the risk of identity theft which is highly probable if the private information of patients is not protected.
In this respect, the health care personnel should be confident of their responsibility, when they get access to electronic health records of patients. Health care professionals need to be responsible for the privacy and confidentiality of this information. Moreover, they need to learn basic mechanisms of the protection of the private information of patients along with basic ethical rules of conduct, when they deal with electronic health records. In addition, health care professionals should be aware of their legal responsibility for information breaches or identity theft, which may occur in the result of their professional negligence, for instance. At the same time, there may be a risk of frauds that means that the information stored in electronic health records should be not only protected but also verified periodically.
The practical application of the electronic health record comprises several key steps. First of all, it is necessary to develop software and networking to provide the reliable and efficient tools of input, output and storage of information. Secondly, it is necessary to elaborate the information system to protect electronic health records from information breaches, identity theft, frauds and other problems. Thirdly, it is necessary to train health care professionals to work with the new information technology along with the employment of IT specialists who can maintain the normal functioning of electronic health records and information system. Only after that, it is possible to input the information concerning the health of patients and their past medical history along with all the data which are stored within electronic health records. Thus, when electronic health records contain all the information, which is fully protected, they can be used in the health care environment.
Technically, the implementation of an individual electronic health care record will not need much time and the timeline can vary from a couple of weeks to several months, depending on the technical background and patient’s medical records. On the other hand, being applied in national terms, electronic health records will need much more time to get introduced. Taking into consideration existing challenges and problems associated with the introduction and functioning of electronic health care records, it is possible to presuppose that the introduction of electronic health records at the national level can take from three-five to ten years. Nevertheless, it is obvious that the implementation of electronic health records is essential because they are very helpful in the health care environment and they are cost-saving.