The first electronic health record (EHR) systems appeared in the 1960s with the Mayo Clinic being one of the first major health systems to implement an EHR. Widespread adoption was a slow process, though, as hospitals and physicians expressed reluctance over patient privacy, interoperability, costs, and limitations of the nascent technology. It wasn’t until the beginning of the 21st century, and then as strongly catalyzed by the HITECH (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health) Act of 2009, that we began to see EHR implementation on a broad national scale.

HCTec was founded in 2010 partly in response to this increase in EHR adoption. As providers and health systems implemented modern EHRs, they needed guidance, support, and professionals with specialized healthcare IT skills. Since then, we’ve undertaken hundreds of projects with healthcare providers across the country to not only implement an EHR system, but train staff, develop best practices, optimize workflows, provide maintenance and support, and much more.

In those early years, the primary goal was to implement an EHR system quickly as hospitals and health systems responded to federally imposed system requirements and deadlines. Micky Tripathi, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, recently described the first wave of EHR implementation as laying the foundation for an overall electronic healthcare ecosystem. I equate that phase with the initial transition from landline telephones to first generation cell phones.

Now, more than a decade after the passing of the HITECH Act, we’re beginning to upgrade from flip phone to smartphone. Today’s EHR systems are becoming more robust and optimized to increase efficiency while reducing costs. They are also evolving to improve the quality and effectiveness of interactions between clinician and patient, arguably the most important goal of any EHR.

Simply put: The EHR is dead.  Long live the EHR.

We are seeing a growing number of hospitals and health systems rethink their current EHRs. Now that they have adapted to the digitization of healthcare, they are looking at leading systems like Epic, Cerner, and Meditech to further upgrade operations and both the clinical and patient experience. From September through December 2020, during the height of the pandemic, 190 health systems went live on an Epic EHR, making it their busiest quarter ever. Mergers & acquisitions, consolidations, or dissatisfaction with current EHRs are continuing to drive this trend. In fact, a recent report showed that 11% of hospitals plan to change their EHR vendor by 2022, with 68% citing the need to optimize functionality of new releases and 34% looking for significant additional functionalities.

The shift from paper medical records to electronic was undoubtedly a major leap in the healthcare industry. Now, EHR systems are finetuning their products and competing to offer users an edge through proprietary data, advanced technology, new features, improved efficiency, and more. Hospitals using an EHR system may feel like they have already joined the technological age, but in reality, many are only operating at baseline. It’s time to modernize to prepare for the next wave of EHR interoperability, ease of access, advanced analytics and artificial intelligence, on-demand data and the trend of care moving outside the hospital to ambulatory and homecare settings.

After all, we expect everyone to have a cell phone in 2021. But, if you’re still using a flip phone, you’re long overdue for an upgrade!