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How to use Electronic Health Record (EHR) technology effectively

Modern technological breakthroughs have fundamentally changed the way the world operates. From the “Internet of Things” to the high-end devices that regular consumers use and could only once dream of, these advances have powered working and personal relationships in the 21st century to new heights.


One industry awash in a sea of digital and technological change is health care. Already undergoing tumultuous change due to political policy and government reform, health care has become a defining example of how new technologies can be used to improve outcomes and revolutionize the way stakeholders communicate and interact for the better. One example of this is telemedicine. The technology has made care access more available to those in rural areas who don’t have the means to routinely travel or are otherwise underserved, while also providing patients, physicians, nurses and family a personalized means to communicate even when they are separated by distance.

Supporting this new digitized health-care landscape are electronic health records (EHRs). Data has become the currency of modern operations. Similar to the way other businesses collect and standardize information gained from consumers, hospitals and other health settings use EHRs to build outpatient profiles that can reduce the chances of medical mistakes, ease care transitions and even improve the quality of the patient’s care and safety. These platforms have the added benefit of enabling communication between patients and their providers to promote better health and wellness. However, as important as EHRs have become to the central workings of health care, there are still many best practices nurses must be adept at in order to effectively use the data and sufficiently protect the privacy of patients.

HIPAA compliance and cybersecurity above all

For all the efficiency and effectiveness benefits EHRs have granted health-care providers and care staff, their use also comes with severe pitfalls that can affect modern digital advances; namely, they are susceptible to attacks and intrusions. The extent to which health systems and the safety of their patients are at stake was made clear when the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) was crippled in early 2017 by a then-emerging online threat called ransomware. Hackers used a highly developed cybercriminal tool to infiltrate the NHS — one of many large, state institutions hit across the globe — and block providers’ access to patient data until they paid a ransom. The sudden cyber strike forced hospitals to turn patients away, as the attack endangered their care and safety.

The hackers were found to have exploited a vulnerability in Microsoft operating systems (NHS used old version that were no longer supported by the company), underscoring just how simple it is for an innocuous decision to lead to an opening. The state of the threat landscape is such that TrapX, a cybersecurity defense provider, said cyberattacks on health-care organizations increased 63 percent in 2016 from a year before, and nearly one-third of all HIPAA violations were traced to a sophisticated attack, a 300 percent increase from 2014.

In the context of all of this, it became priority No. 1 for nurses to utilize EHRs in ways that conform with HIPAA mandates and promote the safe use of protected health information. Some things to keep in mind include:

Not accessing protected health information (PHI) on personal or unapproved devices: Ransomware is a growing threat, but spearphishing and false email campaigns are even more present risks to health care. For these reasons, nurses should avoid using personal or unsecured devices to access patient data. Hospitals have to ensure patient data use will be protected, and personal devices that lack the authorization or approval are not considered fit for such high-level means. It’s also a common sense measure that nurses shouldn’t access medical records on their personal devices.
Never logging into personal accounts on secure devices: Nurses know not to view private patient data on their personal devices, but it is also wise to avoid entering personal accounts on approved, secure devices. This opens up patients and providers to a particularly high risk of phishing, since once a secure device is compromised, the entire infrastructure and health system may then be put in danger. While nurses are likely in the clear to use their work email and the approved apps and programs installed on the device, entering a personal Yahoo email or browsing social media are actions that may have severe consequences.
Keeping passwords and log-ins to yourself: Avoiding sharing passwords with coworkers and other stakeholders in a medical facility is not a matter of a lack of trust between nurses and their colleagues; rather, it’s about ensuring that all controls and protocols are in place and adhered to. However, that’s not to say internal threats are never at play, but that this best practice takes that possibility into account. Personal passwords and log-ins need to remain personal for the good of the patient, nurse, the workforce and the provider.

Leverage EHRs as key communication tools in Care coordination

Not all of the tips for better use of EHRs have to do with security (though it is an overarching theme). There are many points along the care continuum at which the capabilities electronic medical records grant nurses become a major strength. Some of the major benefits EHRs provide can be seen when a patient is being transferred to another team in the building or when hospital staff must work with outside specialists or personal physicians.

The prime advantage of EHRs is the centralized space they offer for aggregated patient data to be viewed contemporaneously by multiple parties. If a team receives lab results in one office and publishes them to the EHR, that information is then readily accessible to any authorized medical professional.

As noted by, EHRs and their ability to integrate and rapidly distribute key patient information in a safe manner can be especially leveraged when treating patients who:

Are admitted in an emergency: EHRs can help nurses with trauma patients and those who come to the ER by acting as an updated list of drug and other allergies, medications they’re already on and an as-complete-as-possible personal health history. All of these information points are critical in pressure situations, as a slight oversight could affect the patient’s condition or safety. Having information on-hand that paints a holistic patient profile is a central asset in combating those risks in emergency care.
Are seen by multiple specialists: Care coordination for patients who have complex multiple chronic conditions that require multiple medically refined perspectives is particularly improved by EHR use. Information and data sharing is vital to achieving good outcomes for the patient, and in many instances the information inputted by one team can be interpreted by another, which leads to progress in treating the patient.
Are transferred or otherwise moved: Transitions of care are another point at which the benefits of EHR use are made clear. Moving from one setting to another is difficult enough for patients, but the care teams entrusted with making that process seamless face challenges as well. Paperwork has routinely bedeviled such situations in health care, but the outsized effects of one missing document can be eliminated with EHRs. Scanning and uploading hardcopy patient information ensures a comprehensive patient background and status report that all parties in the care transition can lean upon.

But EHRs cannot do this all by themselves. While digitized medical records represent valuable tools for improving patient care quality and safety, they are only as good as the information they hold. It’s incumbent on nurses and stakeholders, whether in the same system or not, to communicate as much as possible. That task is made easier by some EHRs that feature secure chat functions. Collaborating on EHRs is predicated as much on real-life communication as it is the practical use of technology.


Learn more about modern nursing at the University of Arizona

The changes in health care at large carry great effects for nurses; as demonstrated, the use of EHRs is one such variable that nurses need to incorporate into their overall understanding of patient care. One way to become more knowledgeable about current and developing health care technologies and their impact on nursing care in the future is by pursuing continuing education. Interested students can begin by contacting the University of Arizona and learning more about their online Master of Science in Nursing.

Recommended reading:

3 Important Trends Nurses Should Know

4 Benefits of Wearable Technology for Nurses

Nursing & Technology: The Only Constant is Change


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