Both Gaffney and Wright said that electronic health records can more efficiently send reminders to patients when they need to come in for a physical or follow-up exam. Doctors can also look at their patients as groups -- for example, tracking how well type 2 diabetes patients are managing their blood sugar levels to decide if more education is needed.
The bottom line, Gaffney said, is that "e-records are a great tool. They lead to better documentation and better communication. But, they are not going to replace the human brain and critical thinking."
Both experts acknowledged that a significant concern that patients have about electronic health records is the privacy and security of those records.
"One thing that's really cool about electronic health records is that you can audit the file to see who has viewed the record. You couldn't do that with paper. Anyone could look at it. But, with electronic health records, the system will challenge you if you shouldn't be in that record," Wright said.
Learn more about electronic health records from the U.S government's HealthIT.gov Web site.
SOURCES: Adam Wright, Ph.D., senior research scientist, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and assistant professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston; Maureen Gaffney, R.N., chief medical information officer, and senior vice president, Patient Care Services, Winthrop University Hospital, Mineola, N.Y.; Feb. 21, 2013, New England Journal of Medicine
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