Since first appearing in the 1960s, electronic health records (EHR) have been developed and adopted for the storage and retrieval of medical documents and clinical information.
With the passing of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) in 2009, the rate of development and adoption has rapidly accelerated.
The advantages of efficient EHR systems are considerable. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) lists comprehensive care, enhanced patient privacy, and an increase in efficient diagnoses as key advantages of EHRs. The use of electronic health records can provide physicians with a more complete view of a patient’s medical history, allowing for more precise and patient-centered treatment. EHRs can provide physicians with quick access to a patient’s medical history–effectively streamlining the coordination of care between physicians, specialists, and facilities.
Challenges Of Electronic Health Records
However, with all the advantages that electronic health records pose there have been continual issues and complications caused by their use. Several studies have noted the adverse effects of EHRs on physician workflow. In a survey of nearly 300 physicians, the healthcare market research firm, Reaction Data, found that the majority of physicians cited electronic health records as large contributors to stress and burnout. Across specialties, surveyed physicians voiced a shared concern: complex EHRs take time away face to face interactions with patients.
Creating Efficient Systems
While there are numerous challenges to creating more effective EHR systems, various groups are working to address the common system issues. When asked how EHRs could be better serve physicians, one-third of physicians cited an improvement of user-friendliness. One pediatrician proposed that developers “create one by and for physicians, not administrators and technogeeks.” Several physicians concurred, suggesting that simplifying EHR systems would allow physicians to spend more time engaging in patient care, thus reducing burnout.
A study from the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration found that hospitals which used complex EHRs had considerably low retention rates, with many physicians leaving to work in facilities with less advanced EHR capabilities.
The most effective EHR systems are those which create more time for physicians to interact with their patients. Statistically, physician burnout leads to an increase in medical errors, more specialist referrals, and an overall decline in the delivery of healthcare. Developers of EHR systems have the opportunity to drastically alter the trend of physician burnout by addressing the complaints of physicians, and creating tools which enable physicians to spend less time inputting data. One surveyed physicians explained, “EHR seems to be predominantly a billing tool, secondarily a compliance tool. Start over and design EHR for patient care.”