Electronic Health Records- A boon for preventive healthcare

Electronic health records will be the next revolution in the healthcare system. Though many private healthcare enterprises boast of implementing the EHRs for their patients, the true potential of this system can only be realized once EHRs become a norm rather than the exception and appropriate framework for data mining which incorporates masking of user-identifying data and access controls is laid out.

The term Electronic Health Records (EHR), means storing all health-related information digitally. A true EHR would be a cloud-based system which captures all medical interventions of an individual from birth till death. This includes all medical consultations & diagnosis, lab investigations, radiology procedures etc. whether with the same or different healthcare providers in a consistent format. All this information stored digitally in a common format brings an enormousount of extremely valuable data in one place, which is otherwise practically impossible to store in physical formats.

Imagine a patient visiting Doctor A for a check-up and all the diagnosis and prescriptions being stored in a cloud-based EHR system along with the timestamp. A few years later the same patient visits another doctor with an assumingly unrelated ailment. The patient would not need to carry all the physical reports with him and would simply provide the doctor access to all his previous health records digitally. The doctor can view all previous reports, diagnosis and related reports in a single place and can come up with his diagnosis much more accurately and quickly. Not only is this a foolproof way of ensuring that no critical information is lost but also ensures that only optimal investigations are ordered and huge savings are realized in terms of cost and time. Thus, EHR as a system-level intervention can significantly improve the efficiency and effectiveness of healthcare delivery.

For this to happen, a strong technology backbone hs to be created. There are 3 main entities in the EHR system- The Technology provider, the user (Owner of the data) & healthcare providers which include doctors, path and diagnostic labs etc. The technology architecture is of paramount importance in an EHR system, especially the access control mechanism. Since confidential health records are being stored in cloud architecture, it needs to be ensured that only the user has access & full control over sharing this information with others. The sharing of this information needs to be time-bound to ensure that the copies of this data cannot be stored anywhere without the permission of the user.

Secondly, to address the issue of authenticity of data, it needs to be ensured that only the healthcare providers can enter information in the system and once the information is entered it becomes immutable. In case a correction is required, a mechanism needs to be devised. But at all costs, no data should be overridden.

The third important aspect to be taken care of is that all the healthcare systems follow the same standards for reporting. This is to ensure that the EHR system can be fed with consistent data. For this, regulations need to ensure that standards such as LOINC need to be adopted by all healthcare providers.

Not only is this a more convenient method of accessing the health records, but this data is also a goldmine for preventive healthcare analytics. Once the user identifying information has been masked, this data can be mined to provide valuable insights into relationships between medical conditions, right dosage for medicines etc. Such a data set would be a true boon for preventive healthcare as it would enable us to identify patterns which can be used to predict certain medical conditions even before they become medically diagnosable.