As healthcare providers face unprecedented challenges fighting the COVID-19 outbreak worldwide, electronic health record (EHR) systems are having to adapt to shifting requirements for patient care.  

“We have never had an international crisis of this proportion in the lifetime of the current EHR,” said Dana Bensinger MSN, RN-BC, informatics nurse specialist and client solution executive at consulting firm CTG. “Once things settle down, there will be a lot of analysis of how well our systems performed, what our areas of vulnerability are, and how we fix them for the future.”

With a surge in demand for hospital capacity, one of the challenges facing hospital IT staffers is figuring out how to quickly deploy EHR systems to alternative care locations. 

EHRs are designed to allow medical information about patients to be readily available to doctors and healthcare workers across practices and wherever a person needs treatment. Because of the haphazard rules and regulations in place when EHRs were set up in the last decade, interoperability between systems has been an ongoing issue; some vendor-specific EHR systems don’t always work well with rival systems, hindering the flow of critical medical information.

“To effectively use the EHR in [alternate] locations, you need to build the department units in the software, extend Wi-Fi, deploy hardware, printers, and test that everything works as expected,” said Bensinger. “That takes an IT army to pull off.”  

These have, in some cases, been set up away from hospital premises. The list of locations ranges from tents erected in parking lots to university dormitories and even entire conference centers. “There is a challenge for the IT departments to get connectivity into there to deploy the EHR and other systems they need at the bedside,” said Mike Jones, a research director at Gartner.  

IT staffers are also required to update EHR systems as additional clinical workers are drafted for duty. “Some health providers have reported that they’re being kept very busy with setting up processes for quickly onboarding new staff and changing their role within the system,” said Jones. “That requires a change in configuration of the EHR in terms of their role-based access, and in some cases it is creating new user accounts.”

As workflows are updated to deal with the COVID-19 response, it is important that EHR systems don’t impede clinicians’ work, are straightforward and seamlessly integrate with existing care delivery processes. “The EHR workflow really needs to disappear into the background as providers ramp up to address COVID-19 capacity surges,” said Jones. 

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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