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Four Ways Your EHR System Is Putting Patients at Risk

Jul 11, 2022

For decades, health care centers have relied on Electronic Health Systems (“EHRs”) to securely store patient data, automate efficient workflows, and facilitate communication both internally and externally. Though, in an era when cybercrime rates are reaching all-time highs, especially in health care, regulators are beginning to keep an eye on how organizations both manage and optimize these crucial systems.

To continue optimizing digital care for patient safety, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”) is requiring all Medicare-eligible hospitals to attest to an annual self-assessment of the SAFER Guides. First published in 2014, the SAFER Guides is a nine-part risk-assessment checklist that includes 165 recommended practices to promote the safe use of EHR systems.

Along with keeping safety top of mind, this increased regulatory oversight puts additional pressure on hospitals to reduce risk along a patient's entire health care journey. Keeping an EHR system well-optimized and up to date is the first step in mitigating these immense risks.

While the main risk health care organizations face when operating with an unoptimized EHR system is unmistakably patient safety, here are a few unanticipated pitfalls they may experience.

Exposing Private Data to Breaches and Hackers

As mentioned, the risks of cyberattacks and data breaches are higher than ever, impacting more than 45 million individuals in 2021.

A health care organization’s EHR system should serve as its first line of defense when protecting and encrypting records and information. When not configured correctly or properly updated, hackers can exploit this weakness as an entry point.

Health care data and medical records are often sold over the dark web to cybercriminals who often use them for identity theft, filing fraudulent medical claims, or even obtaining illegal prescriptions.

Experiencing a breach not only risks your patients’ data, but it comes at a heavy price, with an average cost of $9.2M per incident, according to a study from IBM.

Increasing Risk During Downtime or Blackouts

Health care providers, especially hospitals, need to be prepared for the intake and treatment of patients at all hours of the day. Any downtime of a facility's EHR system, scheduled or not, can open the doors to various risks, even if it’s for only a few minutes.

Without the proper optimization of processes during downtime, health care organizations open the doors to otherwise avoidable risks. This can cause issues from lapses in being able to issue timely communications to potentially losing patient data not backed up on a cloud-based storage system.

So, whether it’s due to a power outage, software failure or scheduled maintenance, without a well-optimized system and contingency plan in place, health care centers can create serious financial and health risks due to system downtime.

Lowering Critical Efficiency

On paper, an EHR system should make the lives of both staff members and health care employees easier, while improving patient care. When an unoptimized system is in place, however, it can be quite the opposite—reducing efficiencies for both employees and patients.

With an unoptimized or unorganized system, the risk of reporting and data inaccuracies increases, muddying the waters of having accurate patient data for diagnoses and ordering.

Additionally, failing to establish standardized workflows presents new opportunities that can put patient data at risk. Failure to use standardized clinical workflows creates a time-sink for providers and opens doors to costly human errors.

Lack of proper and consistent EHR training and education is another common cause of this lowered effectiveness. Without the proper knowledge of how the system works and its capabilities, employees at all levels are limited in how they use even the strongest EHR systems.

Creating a Fractured Patient Journey

In a world of value-based care, offering a great experience is essential as patients become more and more empowered as consumers to choose where and when they receive care. Outside of the primary concern of risking patient safety with an unoptimized EHR system, providers also run the risk of losing patients to competitors because they offer a better experience.

For example, the days of only being able to speak to a teller in-person at a bank during the day are over. Banks are now expected to provide a digital platform where customers can manage their funds securely and easily at all hours of the day. This is no different in health care.

Well-optimized EHR systems can integrate with secure, external portals where patients can automatically schedule appointments, view records and manage billing. Without this integration, you risk patients going to other providers that offer the services they want. Additionally, any issues or glitches they experience along their journey impact how they review (often publicly) your services.

In a competitive market, hospitals and health systems need to use every resource available to provide quality care in a safe and efficient manner. The risks lurking in the EHR can be better managed and even turned into patient safety advantages. Optimizing your EHR system can create a pathway to improved efficiency and better patient outcomes.

Is your organization ready to attest to the SAFER Guides?

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Arvind P. Kumar

Arvind Kumar is Managing Director in the Health Care Services Group and Head of Digital Health Services within the firm.

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