Alma's Technology: Electronic Health Records

Messages from Majd | July 15, 2013

CAST’s new video, , follows 83-year-old Alma Jones on her journey from home to hospital, to a rehabilitation center, and back home. In this 7th installment of our 12-part series on “Alma’s Technology,” CAST Executive Director Majd Alwan explores electronic health records and personal health records.

I hate seeing my mom get old but I think what impresses me most about her aging is that she’s taking charge of it. She’s had electronic records of her medical history and her current medications created so we don’t have to sift through a lot of paperwork.

The fact that Alma Jones has an electronic health record (EHR) makes her family's life a lot easier.

No thick medical files. No need to copy lots of paper when Alma finds a new doctor. No confusion about what diagnostic tests Alma has had, or their results. All of Alma’s health information is safely stored in one place, where every member of her health team can access it.

Alma is a fictional 83-year-old great-grandmother and the central character in CAST’s High-Tech Aging video. The video shows how Alma stays healthy and independent after a stroke by staying connected with her health care providers from the comfort of her own home.

EHRs play a valuable role in documenting patient history, problems, vital signs, lab and test results and care delivered. When they are interoperable and allow the exchange of health information with other EHRs maintained by other providers, they help health teams coordinate care for their patients in shared care and transitions of care situations.

Hence, EHRs form the backbone of many of the aging services technologies (AST) that help older adults remain healthy and independent. Some EHRs provide access to patients through a portal, and/or allow exporting information to a personal health record (PHR).

I’ll be exploring EHRs and PHRs in this 7th installment of our 12-part series on the technologies that appear in the High-Tech Aging video.

Electronic and Personal: 2 Types of Digital Health Records

An electronic health record is a digital file containing personal health information that is generated when a patient has an encounter with any care provider. A typical EHR includes the following information about an individual:

  • Patient demographics.
  • Progress notes.
  • Health-related problems.
  • Medications.
  • Vital signs.
  • Past medical history.
  • Immunizations.
  • Laboratory data.
  • Radiology reports. 

A personal health record is an accessible, interactive, consumer-friendly platform that is usually found on a secure website and features a variety of e-health tools. Consumers use their PHR to organize their personal information, maintain their health, and manage their chronic diseases. Individual consumers own and control the information in their PHRs. They decide whether and with whom to share that information.

Bringing AST Data into Alma’s EHR

Many ASTs featured in the High-Tech Aging video generate and collect real-time information about Alma’s health and functional status, and transmit that data to her caregivers. This provides vital information about Alma that can’t be gathered during a routine office visit.

The vast amount of data that ASTs collect is most meaningful to Alma’s care team when it is incorporated into her EHR. This creates a permanent record of Alma’s health and functional status that can be shared among all Alma’s health care providers. The data from Alma’s ASTs supplement the information captured during office visits to create a comprehensive picture of Alma’s health.

Having access to the comprehensive information in Alma’s EHR and PHR puts every member of the health care team in the best position possible to address Alma’s emerging health issues, help Alma avoid dangerous medication interactions, and ensure that Alma gets the best care possible.

For more information on the interplay between ASTs and health information technology (HIT) in general, and EHRs in particular, check out the recent Report to Congress on aging services technologies written by CAST and NORC at the University of Chicago. It provides a thorough explanation of how important it is to integrate ASTs and HIT.

Selecting an EHR

Selecting the right EHR can be a challenging task. But CAST’s newly updated EHR selection tools can help. The free tools are designed to help long-term and post-acute care (LTPAC) organizations plan for and identify EHR products that meet their needs.

I urge you to consult these resources as you select your EHR:

  • The EHR Selection Matrix currently catalogs more than 200 major functionalities in 36 LTPAC EHR products, including implementation of interoperability standards, health information exchange capabilities, and the ability to provide patients with access to their data.