Future EHRs will focus on efficiency, machine learning, and cloud services—improving how physicians and medical laboratories interact with the systems to support precision medicine and streamlined workflows

When the next generation of electronic health record (EHR) systems reaches the market, they will have advanced features that include cloud-based services and the ability to collect data from and communicate with patients using mobile devices. These new developments will provide clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups with new opportunities to create value with their lab testing services.

Proposed Improvements and Key Trends

Experts with EHR developers Epic Systems, Allscripts, Accenture, and drchrono spoke recently with Healthcare IT News about future platform initiatives and trends they feel will shape their next generation of EHR offerings.

They include:

  • Automation analytics and human-centered designs for increased efficiency and to help reduce physician burnout;
  • Improved feature parity across mobile and computer EHR interfaces to provide patients, physicians, and medical laboratories with access to information across a range of technologies and locations;
  • Integration of machine learning and predictive modeling to improve analytics and allow for better implementation of genomics-informed medicine and population health features; and
  • A shift toward cloud-hosted EHR solutions with support for application programming interfaces (APIs) designed for specific healthcare facilities that reduce IT overhead and make EHR systems accessible to smaller practices and facilities.

Should these proposals move forward, future generations of EHR platforms could transform from simple data storage/retrieval systems into critical tools physicians and medical laboratories use to facilitate communications and support decision-making in real time.

And, cloud-based EHRs with access to clinical labs’ APIs could enable those laboratories to communicate with and receive data from EHR systems with greater efficiency. This would eliminate yet another bottleneck in the decision-making process, and help laboratories increase volumes and margins through reduced documentation and data management overhead.

Cloud-based EHRs and Potential Pitfalls

Cloud-based EHRs rely on cloud computing, where IT resources are shared among multiple entities over the Internet. Such EHRs are highly scalable and allow end users to save money by hiring third-party IT services, rather than maintaining expensive IT staff.

Kipp Webb, MD, provider practice lead and Chief Clinical Innovation Officer at Accenture told Healthcare IT News that several EHR vendors are only a few years out on releasing cloud-based inpatient/outpatient EHR systems capable of meeting the needs of full-service medical centers.

While such a system would mean existing health networks would not need private infrastructure and dedicate IT teams to manage EHR system operations, a major shift in how next-gen systems are deployed and maintained could lead to potential interoperability and data transmission concerns. At least in the short term.

Yet, the transition also could lead to improved flexibility and connectivity between health networks and data providers—such as clinical laboratories and pathologist groups. This would be achieved through application programming interfaces (APIs) that enable computer systems to talk to each other and exchange data much more efficiently.

“Perhaps one of the biggest ways having a fully cloud-based EHR will change the way we as an industry operate will be enabled API access.” Daniel Kivatinos, COO and founder of drchrono, told Healthcare IT News. “You will be able to add other partners into the mix that just weren’t available before when you have a local EHR install only.”

Paul Black, CEO of Allscripts, believes these changes will likely require more than upgrading existing software or hardware. “The industry needs an entirely new approach to the EHR,” he told Healthcare IT News. “We’re seeing a huge need for the EHR to be mobile, cloud-based, and comprehensive to streamline workflow and get smarter with every use.” (Photo copyright: Allscripts.)

Reducing Physician Burnout through Human-Centered Design

As Dark Daily reported last year, EHRs have been identified as contributing to physician burnout, increased dissatisfaction, and decreased face-to-face interactions with patients.

Combined with the increased automation, Carl Dvorak, President of Epic Systems, notes next-gen EHR changes hold the potential to streamline the communication of orders, laboratory testing data, and information relevant to patient care. They could help physicians reach treatment decisions faster and provide laboratories with more insight, so they can suggest appropriate testing pathways for each episode of care.

“[Automation analytics] holds the key to unlocking some of the secrets to physician well-being,” Dvorak told Healthcare IT News. “For example, we can avoid work being unnecessarily diverted to physicians when it could be better managed by others.”

Black echoes similar benefits, saying, “We believe using human-centered design will transform the way physicians experience and interact with technology, as well as improve provider wellness.”

Some might question the success of the first wave of EHR systems. Though primarily built to address healthcare reform requirements, these systems provided critical feedback and data to EHR developers focused not on simply fulfilling regulatory requirements, but on meeting the needs of patients and care providers as well.

If these next-generations systems can help improve the quality of data recording, storage, and transmission, while also reducing physician burnout, they will have come a long way from the early EHRs. For medical laboratory professionals, these changes will likely impact how orders are received and lab results are reported back to doctors in the future. Thus, it’s worth monitoring these developments.

—Jon Stone

Related Information:

Next-Gen EHRs: Epic, Allscripts and Others Reveal Future of Electronic Health Records

Next-Gen IT Infrastructure: A Nervous System Backed by Analytics and Context

EHR Systems Continue to Cause Burnout, Physician Dissatisfaction, and Decreased Face-to-Face Patient Care