Posted By Denton Dickerson On August 7, 2023
Electronic Health Records (EHRs) have undoubtedly revolutionized the delivery of personalized care for patients. However, little is said about how a quality EHR can improve health equity. Health equity refers to the fair and just distribution of health resources and opportunities among all individuals and communities. It is a critical issue as it highlights the disparities in health outcomes that exist among different populations. These disparities are often the result of systemic barriers, such as poverty, discrimination, and lack of access to healthcare, that prevent certain groups from receiving the care they deserve.
What contributes to health equity?
A key factor that contributes to health equity is social determinants of health (SDOH). The SDOH refer to the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age, which affects their health and well-being. These conditions include things like poverty, education, housing, and employment. Research has shown that individuals and communities with higher levels of poverty and lower levels of education are more likely to have poor health outcomes.
In order to address these social determinants, your health organization needs a multi-faceted approach that includes policies and programs that address poverty, education, housing, and employment. Part of this approach is having an EHR equipped with the necessary functionalities to support whole-person care objectives such as those in the national program called Public Health 3.0.
What can your EHR do?
A quality Electronic Health Record (EHR) solution has the potential to improve health equity by giving your staff access to patient information to personalize care and improve treatment outcomes. Here’s what an EHR can do:
1. Increase Access to Care
This can be particularly beneficial for marginalized communities, such as rural or low-income populations, who may not have easy access to healthcare. With an EHR-embedded telehealth solution, you can collaborate on care plans with patients, even when you are not physically in the same location. This ensures that patients receive consistent and appropriate care, regardless of where they receive treatment. Many EHRs allow patients/clients to fill out forms and check-in for appointments before they arrive. This significantly reduces the time they spend in the waiting room. Additionally, if your EHR has a patient portal, you can set up appointment reminders for patients/clients and give them the opportunity to reschedule.
2. Support Personalized Care
Interoperable EHRs allow you to share and access patient information across different locations and providers, bridging the gap in healthcare access. This EHR functionality improves health equity for your patients by providing an overview of their medical history, lab results, and medication lists. You can use this information to create personalized care plans that take into account your patient’s unique needs and circumstances. For example, EHRs can help identify patients who are at high risk for certain conditions and ensure they receive appropriate screenings and preventative care. Providing this information helps ensure your patients receive the right care at the right time.
3. Track and Document Outbound Referrals
EHRs can assist with health equity by allowing you to track and document outbound referrals. They support multiple workflows for documenting and tracking referrals to outside providers or resources, such as WIC, housing, transportation, and food. This allows you to support whole-person care and address Social Determinants of Health (SDOH). By streamlining the referral process, these orders can help eliminate barriers to care that disproportionately affect certain populations, such as those who are low-income, lack transportation, or have limited access to primary care providers. This is a great way to make sure that your patients or clients are able to see other care providers and their information doesn’t fall through the cracks.
4. Reduce Cultural and Linguistic Barriers
To promote health equity, it is crucial to minimize cultural and linguistic barriers in patient-clinician communication. Patients who face a language barrier may experience difficulty communicating their health history. EHRs can alleviate the pressure on patients to communicate their entire medical history in person. EHRs do this by being able to share, as part of the referral process, any language barriers the patient may have so that translators can be secured. Accessing a patient’s medical history through electronic exchange can improve a clinician’s focus on their patient or client and lead to more successful treatment, particularly if the patient has difficulty communicating with the provider due to a language barrier. This functionality also streamlines the clinician’s workflow, as they can easily access medical history without having to sort through mountains of paperwork.
5. Enhance Patient Communication
Another factor that can affect health equity is access to communication devices. While many patients may have access to a cell phone or computer not all have access to text, email or other forms of digital communication. By personalizing messaging based on patient needs and preferences, an EHR can help ensure that patients are receiving important information about their appointments and medical history in a way that works best for them. This can help bridge the communication gap and improve health outcomes for all patients, regardless of their access to technology.
In conclusion, a quality EHR can assist in promoting health equity by providing healthcare professionals with the tools and functionalities necessary for personalized care and improved outcomes for patients. According to a survey conducted by HealthIT.gov, 75% of healthcare providers reported that having an EHR helped them deliver better patient care. EHRs can help ensure that all patients receive the care they need to achieve optimal health outcomes by sharing patient information across different locations and providers, identifying patients who are at high risk for certain conditions, referring them in the right direction, and breaking cultural barriers.
Updated August 2023
Original author credit: Denton Dickerson, August 6, 2023
About Patagonia Health, Inc.
Patagonia Health’s integrated EHR, Practice Management, and Billing solutions are designed to improve departmental workflows using apps and cloud-based technology. Our company was founded with a focus on providing technology solutions with highly referenceable customer service. We collaborate with public and behavioral health organizations to develop advanced features, empowering them to improve the well-being of their communities. Our federally-certified software enables our customers to achieve their desired health outcomes. We serve those who serve others. If you’d like more information about our solutions, contact us today.