Electronic Health Records: Why Teach New Tricks When The Old Tricks Work Better?

Guest post by David Cooper, CEO and co-founder, Medical Mime.

As most of us involved in the healthcare industry already know, the Affordable Care Act calls for providers to adopt secure, confidential, electronic health information systems. Why? Because most experts agree that by using these electronic health records, we can collectively reduce paperwork and administrative burdens, cut costs, reduce medical errors and, most importantly, improve healthcare outcomes. But reality has had a funny way of challenging those expectations.

Yes, financial incentives have motivated doctors to get on the bandwagon, and many – if not most – office-based physicians have adopted some form of electronic health records. A study published in the journal Health Affairs reported that 78 percent of doctors working in office-based environments had implemented an electronic health record.

However, only about 48 percent of doctors had an EHR system with advanced functionality, according to the same source. Only 39 percent reported they had used their system to share medical data with other providers, and a stark 14 percent reported sharing data with providers outside their own practice. In short, the adoption of EHRs has not resulted in the promised integration of patient data that we hoped for. In fact, the use of electronic medical records – so far – may actually be having a negative impact on the quality of care doctors deliver.

According to a Northwestern University study published in the spring of 2014 in the International Journal of Medical Information, doctors who use electronic health records in their exam rooms spend one-third of their time looking at their computer screens. By comparison, physicians who rely on paper charting spend about 9 percent of their time looking at a patient’s records during an encounter. The study also asserts that because physicians spend so much time looking at their EHRs, they miss out on nonverbal communication cues from patients, thus affecting the quality of the care they’re delivering.

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