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Charting a new course

First-year UC Irvine medical students
Photo by Judy Alexander
UC Irvine's first-year medical students have a new sandbox: an electronic medical records (EMR) system.

Tech-savvy first-year medical students are staying one step ahead with an EMR system

Victor Cisneros pulled on a white coat for the first time in August and catapulted into a new way of life at UC Irvine as a first-year medical student. He’s getting a taste of what it eventually will be like to be a physician. He’s also getting a taste of something many doctors have never touched: electronic medical records (EMR).

Thanks to an innovative program developed by School of Medicine faculty and personnel from the Department of Information Services, UC Irvine’s 104 first-year students - members of the Class of 2016 - are learning how to digitally chart patient records.

At many schools, students aren’t introduced to electronic record-keeping until their third year or as residents. UC Irvine’s new EMR program is another in an ongoing series of firsts that are keeping the medical school in the vanguard of high-tech learning.

“Technology is at the forefront in our medical education program," said Dr. Gerald Maguire, senior associate dean of medical education. “The goal of adopting an EMR is to teach our students to perform optimal patient care, minimizing errors and maximizing safety.”

For Cisneros, EMR technology is “an amazing tool. It streamlines everything.”

It’s been more than 20 years since the Institute of Medicine began prodding the medical community to switch to electronic health records. But change comes slowly. Many hospitals and doctor’s offices still do things the old way, with paper records and illegible charts. 

Some statistics show that less than half of America’s doctors’ offices use EMR technology. Only 64 percent of medical schools let their students use an electronic records system, according to a July survey in the journal Teaching and Learning in Medicine.

Nationally, electronic health records are seen as part of the long-term answer to improving care and efficiency and controlling costs, says Dr. David Blumenthal, who formerly served as national coordinator for health information technology for the Obama administration.

But learning how to properly use the system is time consuming, which is why the UC Irvine program targets first-year students.

“We think it’s very important that students learn to use this technology from the very beginning,” says Dr. Shahram Lotfipour, associate dean for clinical science education. “Without Jim Murry (associate dean of IT & Informatics) and his team, we could never have done this.”

The program provides a sandbox that helps students learn what to include on charts and in medical records, but they don’t contribute to actual patient records until their third year.

The program made its debut in the Clinical Foundations I class directed by Dr. Sonia Sehgal, a specialist in internal and geriatric medicine. 

“Students really embraced it,” says Sehgal, pointing to the generational differences between students and their elders. “Students are very tech-savvy and are more comfortable with the technology than practicing providers are.”

Cisneros agrees. “Doctors used to do everything on paper. It’s so much easier to type it all up online.”

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