Good news for electronic health record (EHR) system vendors – providers are complaining less and suggesting more.
That’s reason for vendors to celebrate, as the consensus since the introduction of EHRs has been an exceedingly negative response from providers.
Healthcare IT News’ annual survey of EHR users found more satisfaction and fewer gripes than in the two previous years of the survey.
Not that there wasn’t a decent amount of constructive criticism.
Interoperability, the ability of EHRs and other medical devices to communicate, continues to be a thorn in the side of both vendors and providers. Providers also want vendors to offer tighter security and stronger tech support.
Calls for cleaner and more intuitive user interfaces might seem cosmetic. However, easy to read screens and fewer clicks can make major differences in healthcare workflow and benefit the patient’s health.
Many vendors have begun working with providers directly to determine how best to tweak and improve their products.
This effort goes beyond asking vendors what they need or want from their EHRs. Vendors are instead entering care environments to observe first-hand how providers interact with EHRs, and how that can be improved.
“If you give a doctor a list of 10 activities in the record and you say, ‘How many of these would you like to see on the screen?’ they’ll say, ‘All,'” said Janet Campbell of Epic, one of the leading EHR vendors.
“It’s not until you watch how they interact and move back and forth that you realize that they only need three of those things,” Campbell told Modern Healthcare.
As a result, vendors are consulting providers during the development stage of new software, as well as tracking user experience during a software’s alpha or beta testing stage.
Aside from interoperability, the most consistent gripe from physicians has been the amount of time EHRs require them to spend making entries on a computer instead of interacting with patients.
“There is nothing more frustrating to a patient than talking to their doctor, wanting advice, and that provider is typing away and looking at a computer screen instead of the patient,” Dr. Lloyd Minor, dean of Stanford University Medical School, told PBS.
“That most fundamental aspect of human communication, which is eye contact, now is being robbed from the medical encounter because of the electronic health record,” Minor said.
Reconnecting Patients and Physicians
The solution to this will come incrementally.
Streamlining features so that fewer clicks are required to reach a destination is one tactic. It may seem minor, but when you consider that doctors have been estimated to make 4,000 clicks a day, it makes sense.
Having data entered by someone other than the physician, another staff member or patients using a patient portal, also could increase time physicians spend with patients.
There’s also potential in using clinical speech recognition software or through virtual assistants, who perform clerical functions remotely.
While the provider-vendor relationship isn’t a loving one just yet, physicians are accepting the inevitability of EHRs and are working with vendors to make the systems work better for them and for the patient.
“It’s important to note that the EHR is an incredibly powerful tool,” family physician Dr. Albert Chan told NPR. “There are tremendous things you can do with the EHR. You can automatically alert patients about their conditions, for example; you can personalize their care.
“The lesson I’ve learned,” Chan said, “is that the EHR requires work to make it work.”