Rethinking EHRs: Actionable Insight Increases Usability (Part 2)

Guest post by Matthew Douglass, co-founder, SVP Customer Experience, Practice Fusion

Matthew Douglass
Matthew Douglass

In part 1 of this series, we reviewed the history of digital health tools and discussed why they are not yet fully satisfying the needs of many physicians.

If you think of the U.S. healthcare system as a vast nationwide transportation network, current electronic health record (EHR) functionality is the basic highway infrastructure. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided the incentives for those highways to be built and put in place the structure for ONC-certified EHRs to define the rules of the road via regulatory standards. The roads are now mostly in place: certified EHRs all offer roughly the same base functionality for use by physicians, store clinical information in standardized ways, and have the capabilities to securely communicate with each other.

Sixty-seven percent of medical practices in the U.S. are now using EHRs to run all or part of their daily operations. Patients’ vital signs are stored as discrete values for each visit. Encrypted messages between physicians and their staff are transmitted reliably. Chart notes are being digitally documented and can be shared confidentially with patients. Physicians that have chosen cloud-based EHRs can securely prescribe and refill medications from the convenience of their mobile phones.

Despite having this digital highway system in place, we haven’t yet reached a destination where use of EHRs achieves better patient outcomes or improved clinical experiences. Physicians want more from digital tools than simply receiving, storing, and displaying data values about each patient visit. Rather than devoting too much of their already limited time to data entry and retrieval, physicians want to provide the best patient care possible, and they expect technology to help them achieve this goal.

There is such a thing as too much data, which physicians are reminded of each time they open a digital chart. Clinicians very often are left swimming in more data than they can adequately process, which can erode the crucial patient-provider human relationship.

To address data overload and dehumanization challenges, software partners must go back to the drawing board and visualize dramatic innovations that can be built on top of the nationwide EHR foundation. Significant cognitive overhead is required to distill hundreds of disparate pieces of clinical data into a salient picture of an individual’s overall health. The vast amount of data now available in a patient’s chart is quite often far more than any medical professional, no matter how clinically experienced, can consistently and reliably assimilate.

Physicians and their staff need intuitive technology to be their always-available, intelligent assistant, from start to finish during a patient’s visit.

When a patient’s record is displayed on the computer screen, physicians shouldn’t have to dig for relevant information about that visit. Instead, the EHR should be able to display the pertinent clinical data and health insights for the physician to review and assess a patient’s health condition more quickly and effectively. For example, lab values and vital signs relevant to that patient’s chief complaint are likely already stored as discrete values in the patient’s chart. An EHR that learns along with the physician’s workflow preferences should display only the most relevant data through easily digestible visualizations.

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