The next evolution of EHRs: What to expect in 2021 and beyond

EHRs have become an integral part of the healthcare delivery system in the past decade and will continue to evolve in the coming years to alleviate the tech burden on healthcare providers and add to the clinical decision-making process.

Nearly all large healthcare organizations, and many smaller ones as well, have implemented EHRs to gather and report data. What will the next iteration look like?

Becker's asked the four largest EHR companies — Epic, Cerner, Allscripts and Meditech — what to expect from their technology in the future. Here are six big takeaways:

1. Natural language processing and voice assistants will make it easier for clinicians to connect with patients. Clinicians can now use their voice to search a patient's medical history and place orders within the Epic EHR. "In the future, the voice assistant will also be able to write the clinician's note and close the visit. We demonstrated a 'click- and keystroke-free' office visit at our Users' Group Meeting last August," said Sean Bina, vice president of patient experience at Epic. "We'll also increasingly use data to drive evidence-based medicine."

2. The EHR design and accessibility will help save time per patient and increase documentation accuracy, according to Paul Black, CEO of Allscripts. "The trends emerging from our research show the desire for a fully connected, mobile EHR, where information is presented in context that is purpose-built for the device — a watch, a tablet, a phone or on the web. In addition, it is able to inherit and leverage the benefits of the device, including location, gestures, messaging and voice," said Mr. Black.

3. The next generation of EHRs will also focus on data liquidity to make patient and consumer data more accessible, portable and consumable regardless of where it originates, especially with the federal government's focus on interoperability. "With Cerner technology advancements and focus on what data can do for healthcare, we are enhancing the ability to access and exchange data between our clients and any organization," said Will Mintz, Cerner's chief strategy officer. "Cerner is taking interoperability beyond connectivity to true usability by creating a single, longitudinal record that ultimately is useful in any care venue."

4. EHRs will further embrace apps and technologies across the healthcare industry, according to Meditech's executive vice president, Helen Waters. "We need to ease the burden on patients and clinicians, melding natively into their natural workflows by using web and mobile technologies that offer the same convenience and conventions as everyday smartphone and touchscreen devices," she said. "We also need to offer advanced decision support to adjust to rising patient volumes."

5. Telemedicine has become increasingly important during the pandemic. Patients and clinicians can now launch virtual care visits directly through the EHR and the functionality will be an important aspect of future electronic medical record iterations.

6. The large EHR companies are working with big tech to advance cloud-based initiatives. Epic's cognitive computing platform allows systems to place data in the Microsoft Azure Cloud for heavier processing and then feeds insights back into the local Epic workflow. Allscripts also has a partnership with Microsoft, which is the cloud provider for its Sunrise EHR.

"Our partnership with Microsoft has been recognized for giving us an advantage over the competition in innovation and shifting to the cloud," said Mr. Black. "Microsoft investments in cybersecurity are tremendous, their focus in the healthcare segment is significant, and they are already exploring new horizons, including digital twins and advanced artificial intelligence with us."

Cerner has a partnership with Amazon Web Services, which worked to rapidly deploy the Cerner Command Center dashboard to clients in the cloud.

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