NIOSH and Electronic Health Records

Posted on by Ginelle Edmondson, BSN, MPH

white-coated man holds pen and regards clipboardYou’ve probably heard about ‘electronic health records’ or ‘EHRs’—either in the news or from people you know who work in the healthcare field. An electronic health record (EHR) (also electronic patient record (EPR) or computerized patient record) is defined as a systematic collection of electronic health information about individual patients or populations.1 It is a record in digital format that is capable of being shared across different health care settings, by being embedded in network-connected enterprise-wide information systems. Such records may include a whole range of information including age, gender, ethnicity, health history, medications and allergies, immunization status, lab test results, radiology images, and billing information.2 EHRs will soon be coming to a healthcare facility near you, if they haven’t already, and will allow your doctors and other providers to communicate essential information about your health more efficiently and more quickly. President Obama has ordered his Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) to set the nation on a course of electronic transmission of medical data, and wants all healthcare providers to use interoperable (meaning, systems that can communicate with each other) health records by the year 2014. A 2005 RAND funded article in the journal Health Affairs indicated Medicare would receive about $23 billion of the potential savings per year, and private payers would receive $31 billion per year in cost savings.3

What do EHRs have to do with NIOSH? In the clinical setting, the accurate diagnosis and management of work-related conditions is essential to an individual’s health. While the EHR does not replace the skilled health care provider, it can provide information to assist providers with evaluating the contribution and impact of work on health. For example, when a person’s job and workplace are recorded in the EHR, this information can help the provider evaluate the source of a patient’s injury or illness. Information about a person’s jobs and workplaces over time can be used to assess whether or not a chronic illnesses—such as cancer—may be related to exposures at their workplaces. In its just-released report entitled Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk, What We Can Do Now, the President’s Cancer Panel recommended that physicians routinely ask their patients about their previous and current work, and that this information be incorporated into the medical record. Programming the EHR to store and display information about a person’s job history will facilitate this.

Healthcare facilities can also use information available in the EHR system to identify common problems among the patients that they serve. For example, a community health center might identify dermatitis as a problem affecting its patients who work in a local furniture factory. Armed with this information, the health center can counsel its patients who perform this kind of work and can look for solutions that can benefit a segment of its patient population. The EHR, though no substitute for clinical expertise, can improve care by keeping a wealth of information at the provider’s fingertips. Efficient use of information also has a great potential to reduce healthcare costs by eliminating redundant tests and other waste.

Building capacity to promote prevention and enhance public health surveillance of work-related illness and injuries at the state and local levels is a widely recognized and urgent need. It is well known that occupational injuries cause 16 deaths per day and illnesses related to work account for nearly 50,000 deaths per year. Every day 11,000 people in the private sector in the U.S. suffer an injury or illness at work.4 Electronic health data could help us more effectively assess the nature and magnitude of the problem, provide the means to determine who is affected, where, and how, and could inform resource allocation. This is an important issue because currently a true all-encompassing national survey of workplace injury and illness does not exist. Use of data from medical records will be an additional source of data with which to assess occupational illnesses and injuries, particularly chronic illnesses. EHRs might be able to help overcome the underreporting and undercounting of workplace illnesses and injuries. Information could be used to direct intervention efforts aimed at prevention of occupational mortality and morbidity.

The promises of improved care and improved surveillance of occupational injuries and illnesses will only be realized if occupational information is included in the EHR. NIOSH is currently engaging with organizations, committees, and individuals who are identifying, developing and establishing the standards and systems for capturing relevant electronic clinical data to ensure the appropriate collection of occupational information. This involves a sustained effort of collaboration for which NIOSH has developed a strategy to articulate its goals for incorporating occupational information into EHRs. Challenges now include constructing a case for “Meaningful Use” of these data (the requirement for the EHR to provide complete and accurate information, better access to information through the EHR and sharing the EHRs health information securely with patients and providers5) as well as adopting standards for data capture, and piloting systems, which test these standards in clinical settings.

NIOSH has learned much about how existing electronic health records systems collect and store an individual’s occupational data by asking for assistance from a variety of healthcare systems. Kaiser Permanente, Mayo Clinic, The Regenstrief Medical Record System, Partners Healthcare, Indian Health Service, NASA, the Veteran Health Administration, and the Department of Defense were among those who gave insight to our next steps. These exchanges have been with leaders in the fields of medical and public health informatics (PHI) and health information technology (HIT), who have important perspectives on EHR data collection practices.

In addition to conversations with best practice leaders, NIOSH has joined several national level committees, including the Public Health Data Standards Consortium (PHDSC). We have submitted numerous comments to The Office of National Coordinator (ONC) though CDC, The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, Healthcare Information Technology Standards Panel (HITSP) and the CDC-CSTE—Case Report Standardization Work Group (CRSWg). Our comments have begun to garner support for inclusion of industry and occupation into EHRs. We welcome our partners’ recommendation as to what organizations would be beneficial to our efforts.

Overall, NIOSH’s efforts have gained momentum in the national agenda. The President’s Cancer Panel Report has recommended physicians to routinely take occupational histories, “with inclusion of workplace factors” and to include these in the electronic health records systems nationally. It has realized that not only will the “data have the potential to improve diagnosis and treatment,” but it “would capture crucial information researchers need to study the impact of environmental exposures over time.” Such information can be invaluable in discovering underlying causes of disease.

Ms. Edmondson is a Public Health Informatics Consultant in the NIOSH Division of Respiratory Disease Studies.


  1. Gunter, T.D. and Terry, N.P. 2005 The Emergence of National Electronic Health Record Architectures in the United States and Australia: Models, Costs, and Questions in J Med Internet Res 7(1)
  2. HIMSS – Electronic Health Record (EHR). Retrieved June 6th 2010.
  3. Hillestad, Richard et al.: “Can Electronic Medical Record Systems Transform Health Care? Potential Health Benefits, Savings, and Costs,” Health Affairs, 2005 [1], Retrieved September 30th 2010.
  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (n.d.). Healthy People 2010. Retrieved September 30th 2020, from the World Wide Web:
  5. Electronic Health Records and Meaningful Use. Retrieved October 1st 2010.
Posted on by Ginelle Edmondson, BSN, MPH

13 comments on “NIOSH and Electronic Health Records”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    Finally! I tried to collect injury and illness information after Katrina and found it inconceivable that there was no one place you could go to for collective data. I tried local hospitals, osha logs, the CDC to no avail.

    It is way past time to have a system in place to compile the crucial factors that go undetected in the workplace, home and during catastrophic events. Thank You.

    Thank you for your comment. We are jut beginning to understand the challenges in trying to collect meaningful workplace data.

    I believe EHR files are a blessing for monitoring phisical status of individuals which will assist in preventing on the job accidents due to individuals, who allow their health to be compromised. I have a million questions and ideas on this subject, all positive. We are living in the 21st century.

    Thank you for your comment. We welcome the discussion and your ideas on electronic health records in the workplace.

    I am working with a group funded by NIH to prospectively establish a research database using EMRs from Farmworker/Community clinic.

    I was particularly interested in your statement:

    “NIOSH has learned much about how existing electronic health records systems collect and store an individual’s occupational data by asking for assistance from a variety of healthcare systems”.

    I would be very interested in talking with you about structuring our research database to be updated twice yearly from records of participating clinics. I believe your advice would be invaluable.


    Thank you for your comment. We welcome the discussion to learn more about your research database and can provide insight where needed. I will contact you to discuss further.

    Medical records/Data bases need to be available to patients for review just as credit reports/records are. My primary care physcian went ‘paperless’ some years ago, without my knowledge. I only found out some time later when I went to a specialist that they selected what they wanted from my records and destroyed the rest. All info on my antibiotic allergies, information that I was prescribed medications which later had contraversial side effects, was deleted. What is in place that requires this information to be carried forward even if it implicates the practice?

    Where are the patient rights and ability to annotate on the records information they feel is important?

    It is way past time to have a system in place to compile the crucial factors that go undetected in the workplace, home and during catastrophic events. Thank You.

    Interesting and important blog topic. Thank you.

    An important consideration for Occupational Medicine will be to press for a platform that allows the occupational medicine physician, who provides workplace preventive services or work injury care, to interface with the patient’s Medical Home. Since the large EMR systems described above (Kaiser Permanente, VAH, Mayo) are tightly closed for HIPAA reasons, we may want to press for specs that favor the personal health record in addition.

    Finally, we ought to press for financial incentives for occupational physicians to adopt an EMR, comparable to the “meaningful use” incentives in ARRA for Medicare and Medicaid patients.

    Suggestions for such incentives – work with the AMA RUK to develop an E&M modifier for EMR use, which could be associated with a billing surcharge. Or, a set of specific E&M codes or modifiers, associated with the workplace provision of preventive services graded A or B by USPSTF.

    Thanks for the kind attention.

    The one thing that worries me . How many people will get information of my record and use it? Nothing is safe on the internet from our goverment. they see everything that once was private and will use it aganist the honest citizen today.

    The successful adoption and implementation of the EHR will be critical to implementation of other healthcare IT such as the health information Exchange and the health insurance Exchange. EHR will also provide the key data for research and development of healthcare softwares needed for the effective adoption of the reforms and for facilitating better healthcare in the country.

    Many do not realize how necessary this system is for our nation. I recently made the switch to EHR and it wasn’t the nightmare that everyone is making it out to be. I found a great company, [name removed], and made the leap. It’s as simple as that. Physicians need to act now before the reimbursement disappears.

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Page last reviewed: December 7, 2016
Page last updated: December 7, 2016