Electronic health records enter diabetes fight

One of the ways the American health care system is striving to improve quality of care for millions of people afflicted with diabetes is by expanding the use of electronic health records.

Diabetes is a huge problem in the United States, affecting one out of 11 people, or about 29 million. Often caused by genetics and poor diet, diabetes costs the U.S. health care system billions of dollars each year.

One out of four people with diabetes does not know that he or she has it, and it is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, claiming more than 73,000 lives per year.

With better coordination of care and improved recordkeeping, people with diabetes can find out if they have the disease before it begins to take its toll. Further, they can make sure that they receive the necessary care and stay on schedule with medications and checkups.

Electronic health records and diabetes
When President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law in 2010, he proclaimed his faith in electronic health records, or EHRs. These electronic versions of paper records contain a patient’s medical history, allergies, laboratory and test results, immunization dates, diagnoses, and treatment plans. They can be shared with every doctor and health care professional a patient visits to ensure that they are all up to date on the patient’s issues and care.

EHRs are especially helpful for patients with chronic diseases. The average individual may go to the doctor once a year for a checkup. But someone with a chronic condition like diabetes might need to go to different specialists, pharmacists and doctors to figure out the best methods of treatment. The tracking and organization made possible by the electronic records make it easier for all these professionals to coordinate care.

EHRs prove effective
EHRs have been proven to reduce the number of emergency room visits and hospitalizations. According to a Journal of American Medicine study released in 2013, which included 169,711 diabetes patients, hospitals using EHRs saw a 5.5 percent decline in emergency room visits and a 5.2 percent reduction in hospitalizations.

Another study, conducted by The New England Journal of Medicine in 2011, found that diabetes patients received better care when their medical records were made electronic. Researchers based their findings on whether the patients:

• Received a pneumococcal vaccination
• Saw their glycated hemoglobin value
• Were tested for a urinary microalbumin or evidence of treatment with an angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor or an angiotensin-receptor blocker
• Were given an eye test that screened for diabetic retinopathy.

The study found that 50.9 percent of diabetes patients who went to doctors’ offices that used EHRs received all four types of care, while only 6.6 percent of diabetes patients who went to doctors’ offices that still used paper records received the same standard of care.

Since the Affordable Care Act is still in its early stages, health care professionals are still catching up with EHRs. However, in 2015 they will face steeper penalties from the government that increase the pressure to start using them.