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Benefits of EHRs include tracking the spread of infection in hospitals

EHRs have been touted for their ability to make billing easier and more accurate, improve patient care, provide a foundation on which to conduct data analytics, and more.

It may be time to add tracking the spread of infection throughout a hospital to the list of benefits of EHRs.

When a potentially deadly hospital-acquired infection appeared and spread throughout the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), researchers used the hospital’s EHR to figure out where in the hospital people were becoming infected.

In a report in JAMA Internal Medicine, it was revealed that the CT scanner in the hospital’s emergency department was the source.

The report’s researchers used time and location stamps on electronic records to map patients’ movements through the hospital and thereby track the course of the infection as well.

The lead author of the report, Sara Murray, M.D., medical director of clinical informatics at UCSF Health, told Reuters in an article that this research demonstrates just one of the benefits of EHRs and how they can improve healthcare.

“I think it’s a proof-of-concept for the capabilities of EHR data that other hospitals can use,” Murray said in the article. “Maybe it’s not their CT scanner. Maybe it’s their pulmonary-function lab or their MRI machine or their operating room.”

Using the hospital’s EHR, researchers of the report mapped patient location changes for more than 86,000 adults in the UCSF hospital for over three years. One question the researchers wanted an answer to was whether using a room 24 hours after a patient infected with Clostridium difficile (C. diff) increased the risk of infection in specific areas throughout the hospital.

The team of researchers discovered that patients who entered the CT scanner in the emergency department within 24 hours after a C. diff infected patient were 2.5 times more likely to also become infected than patients who entered the CT scanner after the 24 hour mark.

Although doctors frequently complain about EHRs, Murray told Reuters that she believes they will come around and see the benefits of EHRs; especially as it is further proven that EHRs can be helpful in many areas of healthcare.

“The private sector has been data mining for years,” Murray said in the article. “We are just starting in the healthcare sector to improve care for our patients. This is an example of that kind of data mining and something that could be replicated at other institutions.”

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