The Future of Electronic Health Records in the US: Lessons Learned from the UK – Breakaway Thinking

Posted on December 17, 2014 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Carrie Yasemin Paykoc, Senior Instructional Designer / Research Analyst at The Breakaway Group (A Xerox Company). Check out all of the blog posts in the Breakaway Thinking series.
Carrie Yasemin Paykoc
With 2014 coming to a close, there is a natural tendency to reflect on the accomplishments of the year. We gauge our annual successes through comparison with expected outcomes, industry standards, and satisfaction with the work done. To continue momentum and improve outcomes in the coming years we look for fresh ideas. For example, healthcare organizations can compare their efforts with similar types of organizations both locally and abroad. In the United States, looking beyond our existing borders toward the international community can provide valuable insight. Many other nations such as the UK, are further down the path of providing national healthcare and adopting electronic health records. In fact, the National Health Service (NHS) of UK has started plans to allow access of  Electronic Health Records (EHR) on Smartphones through approved health apps. Although healthcare industry standards appear to be in constant flux, these valuable international lessons can help local healthcare leaders develop strategies for 2015 and beyond.

By the year 2024, the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) aims to improve population health through the interoperable exchange of health information, and the utilization of research and evidence-based medicine. These bold and inspiring goals are outlined in their 10 Year Vision to Achieve Interoperable Health IT Infrastructure, also known as ONC’s interoperability road map. This document provides initial guidance on how the US will lay the foundation for EHR adoption and interoperable Healthcare Information Technology (HIT) systems. ONC has also issued the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan 2015-2020. This strategy aims to improve national interoperability, patient engagement, and expansion of IT into long-term care and mental health. Achieving these audacious goals seems quite challenging but a necessary step in improving population health.

EHR Adoption in UK
The US is not alone in their EHR adoption and interoperability goals. Many nations in our international community are years ahead of the US in terms of EHR implementation and utilization. Just across the Atlantic Ocean, the United Kingdom has already begun addressing opportunities and challenges with EHR adoption and interoperability. In their latest proposal the NHS has outlined their future vision for personalized health care in 2020. This proposal discusses the UK’s strategy for integrating HIT systems into a national system in a meaningful way. This language is quite similar to Meaningful Use and ONC’s interoperability roadmap in the United States. With such HIT parallels much could be learned from the UK as the US progresses toward interoperability.

The UK began their national EHR journey in the 1990s with incentivizing the implementation of EHR systems. Although approximately 96 percent of all general provider practices use EHRs in the UK, only a small percentage of practices have adopted their systems. Clinicians in the UK are slow to share records electronically with patients or with their nation’s central database, the Spine.

Collaborative Approach
In the NHS’s Five Year Forward View they attempt to address these issues and provide guidance on how health organization can achieve EHR adoption with constrained resources. One of the strongest themes in the address is the need for a collaborative approach. The EHRs in the UK were procured centrally as part of their initial national IT strategy. Despite the variety of HIT systems, this top-down approach caused some resentment among the local regions and clinics. So although these HIT systems are implemented, clinicians have been slow to adopt the systems to their full potential. (Sarah P Slight, et al. (2014). A qualitative study to identify the cost categories associated with electronic health record implementation in the UK. JAMIA, 21:e226-e231) To overcome this resistance, the NHS must follow their recommendations and work collaboratively with clinical leadership at the local level to empower technology adoption and ownership. Overcoming resistance to change takes time, especially on such a large national scale.

Standard Education Approach
Before the UK can achieve adoption and interoperability, standardization must occur. Variation in system use and associated quality outcomes can cause further issues. EHR selection was largely controlled by the government, whereas local regions and clinics took varied approaches to implementing and educating their staff. “Letting a thousand flowers bloom” is often the analogy used when referring to the UK’s initial EHR strategy. Each hospital and clinic had the autonomy of deciding on their own training strategy which consisted of one-on-one training, classroom training, mass training, or a combination of training methods. They struggled to back-fill positions to allow clinicians time to learn the new system. This process was also expensive. At one hospital £750 000 (over $1.1 million US) was spent to back-fill clinical staff at one hospital to allow for attendance to training sessions. This expensive and varied approach to training makes it difficult to ensure proficient system use, end-user knowledge and confidence, and consistent data entry. In the US we also must address issues of consistency in our training to increase end-user proficiency levels. Otherwise the data being entered and shared is of little value.

One way to ensure consistent training and education is to develop a role-based education plan that provides only the details that clinicians need to know to perform their workflow. This strategy is more cost-effective and quickly builds end-user knowledge and confidence. In turn, as end-user knowledge and confidence builds, end users are more likely to adopt new technologies. Additionally, as staff and systems change, plans must address how to re-engage and educate clinicians on the latest workflows and templates to ensure standardized data entry. If the goal is to connect and share health information (interoperability), clinicians must follow best-practice workflows in order to capture consistent data.  One way to bridge this gap is through standardized role-based education.

Conclusion
Whether in the US or UK, adopting HIT systems require a comprehensive IT strategy that includes engaged leadership, qualitative and quantitative metrics, education and training, and a commitment to sustain the overall effort.  Although the structure of health care systems in the US and UK are different, many lessons can be learned and shared about implementing and adopting HIT systems. The US can further research benefits and challenges associated with the Spine, UK’s central database as the country moves toward interoperability. Whereas the UK can learn from education and change management approaches utilized in US healthcare organizations with higher levels of EHR adoption. Regardless of the continent, improving population health by harnessing available technologies is the ultimate goal of health IT.  As 2015 and beyond approaches, collaborate with your stakeholders both locally and abroad to obtain fresh ideas and ensure your healthcare organization moves toward EHR adoption.

Xerox is a sponsor of the Breakaway Thinking series of blog posts.