Could There Be a Correlation Between EHRs and Improved Life Expectancies?

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the current life expectancy in the United States is roughly 78 years. For the rural population served by the Peter Christensen Health Center in Lac du Flambeau, Wis., which is primarily composed of Chippewa Indians, the life expectancy was only 56 years in 2005. But in the past five years, the life expectancy of the community has gone up to 59 years. So what changed?

Michael Popp, the clinical application coordinator at PCHC, says he sees a correlation between the implementation of the Sage Healthcare electronic health record system in 2005 and the improved life expectancies within the community. The only computers they had were for billing, while patient data was all paper-based. "Everything had to be tracked on paper, but now we're able to use the EHR, to go in there and get the list of diabetic patients, for example — what percentage completed a foot or eye exam last year, benchmark improvements — and that's huge for us," Mr. Popp says.

Mr. Popp says if hospitals and physicians know their patients have risk factors such as diabetes or congestive heart failure, templates and reports can be built into the system to help monitor the patients' conditions.

This has led to patients receiving their exams and labs tests on time and catching chronic or precancerous conditions. "The data we have after five years is the most valuable thing in our practice besides our providers," Mr. Popp says. "We can data mine there every which way and pull many reports out."

Back in the days of paper, those reports on lab tests and exams had to be updated every month and physically placed into a binder. It required full-time work to perform that function alone, but now, he says the reports from the EHR system allow providers to proactively approach patients who haven't met goals or exams.

Mr. Popp sees EHRs affecting more than just rural hospitals. He says EHRs will benefit the entire healthcare field by saving money and time in the long-term, having more relaxed providers and nurses who can easily find patient data and using data to diagnose problems of an entire population. "As clinics start to evolve and realize they've been on an EHR system and how powerful the amount of info is, they can congregate some of it together into a health information exchange," Mr. Popp says. "That's when we'll see people looking at health in a region and make conclusions based on the health of those populations."

Related Articles on EHRs:
Digitizing Healthcare Involves Grasping the Scope, Finding Value of EHR Data
HHS to Initiate Program Donating EHR Software to Minority Communities
More Missouri Hospitals Using Electronic Health Records

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