In recent years, the software systems that manage electronic health records (EHR) have seen big gains within the healthcare industry, eliminating many of the headaches associated with traditional paper-based records.

Just like its paper-based counterpart, an electronic health record provides a comprehensive medical history of a patient, including demographics, medications, immunizations, and more. Whereas paper records often suffer from poor handwriting, storage issues, and difficulty sharing with other practices, the digital nature of an electronic health record solves many of these issues.

For medical practices, the key factor in the migration to electronic health records is investing in software that makes the transition a painless process. It’s worth noting, too, that today’s EHR software offers a lot more features for practices than just the simple sending and delivery of medical records. Patient engagement, billing, and overall efficiency can all be improved with the right EHR system, but that didn’t happen overnight.

History of EHR software

While it may seem like a relatively new phenomenon, EHR software actually dates back to the 1960s, according to the National Institutes of Health, when more than 70 hospitals began moving away from paper records. A variety of early EHR systems helped facilitate the process back then, including TDS— which was developed by Lockheed in the 1960s— and COSTAR— which was placed in the public domain in 1975. As so often is the case with young software, there were significant technical issues — including different vocabularies and interfaces — that marred widespread implementation.

Luckily, in the decades that followed, software developers learned from both the successes and drawbacks of the older iterations, and began creating much more refined EHR systems that spurred adoption. For instance, the famed Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, began using EHRs in 1995 and went completely paperless in 2004. At Mayo, EHRs have expanded to include every document related to a patient’s medical treatment — such as lab reports, appointment schedules and MRI scans.

Recent government actions have added to the EHR momentum and sparked broader adoption. In 2009, for instance, as part of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, the federal government put $27 billion towards an incentive program that encourages hospitals and providers to migrate to electronic health records systems (EHR). Combined with government pushes for interoperability, Meaningful Use and MACRA the need for medical practices to adopt quality EHR software has never been greater.

EHR software today

Today’s EHR software continues to build on the progress of its predecessors, allowing practices to save, share, and access an incredible amount of aggregated patient data with just a few clicks. And with easier-to-understand information, doctors can deliver the best care possible, faster than ever before.

Additionally, the most cutting edge software will complete a number of mundane but important tasks automatically, like looking up insurance eligibility, checking for possible issues with recently prescribed medicine and providing warnings and reminders that help further avoid errors and duplications with prescriptions — as well as many other tasks that work to plug revenue leaks.

Many EHR systems also offer a patient portal, giving patients private and secure access to their own electronic Personal Health Record (PHR). This helps improve overall patient engagement, putting them in the driver’s seat on the path to wellness. Many portals also offer a billing option that lets patients pay their statements online.

And it’s not like today’s best EHR software options are tied down to one office desktop computer running clunky, legacy software. Instead, they’re web-based, customizable, 100 percent secure, and accessible on any type of device or operating system.

These are just some of the benefits medical practices can gain by adopting EHR systems today. As the industry progresses, this software will only become more nimble, advanced and sophisticated. In fact, we’re at a point where a practice can only function for so long without switching over to EHR. Most practices have already adopted. For the few who haven’t, the time to migrate is now.