Electronic health records were supposed to solve many of the problems that the healthcare industry was facing. A growing volume of patients accompanied by increased documentation and reporting standards meant that paper filing systems could not keep up. Going digital was supposed to help everyone – the provider, the patient, the government, hospitals and even insurers.
Have EDRs lived up to the promise? Expert opinion appears to be split down the middle. While some clinics have seen substantial improvements and wouldn’t dream of going back to paper, other doctors insist that EDRs have reduced the quality of patient interaction. Industry associations blame the government for requiring meaningless documentation. Providers blame insurers as the need for paperwork increases by the day. But there is a real problem behind the blame game.
The fact of the matter is that EDRs still have a long way to go before they become indispensable tools for doctors. The EDR systems we use today are a far cry from the earliest implementations. But many applications lack even basic capabilities that can easily frustrate users. When you’re sitting with the patient in the room, the last thing you want to do is scroll through endless pages to find one little checkbox or type notes.
Using EDRs to Improve Workflows
One source of EDR frustration has its roots in the purchase process, even before you deploy the new system. Faced with a choice of different vendors, many practices simply pick the one that has the most features are is the most popular at the moment. What you should be doing instead is to focus on how the EDR can help with your existing workflows. Some applications will need all your employees to change the way they work. Such a system is not going to be a successful match for you.
An EDR system that is well-designed will have an intuitive interface and the fewest number of buttons to click to do any task. The days of jumping through different windows are long gone but not all providers share the same view. An EDR should let you spend more time with your patient and less time in front of the screen, not the other way around.
For example, a system that has auto complete features for all text fields will be much better than one that promises a laundry list of advanced capabilities. More often than not, it will take a lot of time and effort to set up those features (with no guarantee that they will work). But something as simple as auto complete can save you hundreds of hours in data entry and typing.
In the same vein, compatibility and interoperability are important attributes for any EDR system. The latest or most expensive software will not save you much time if you can’t transfer data in and out of the system. Each time you refer a patient to a specialist or external provider, you will need to convert the data to paper files. An EDR that is interoperable with other systems can complete that workflow in a few minutes.
The important thing to remember is that EDRs are good at certain things but cannot replace the patient-doctor relationship. So a digital system is excellent for automating certain tasks, searching through millions of pages of documentation or making sure data is backed up and safe. An EDR cannot make a diagnosis, comfort a patient or advice them of alternative drugs/treatments etc. So beware of any vendor that makes such promises for the future. Instead look for an EDR with features that can help you today.