Electronic health records (EHR) “inflict pain” on physicians

Electronic health records “inflict enormous pain on our nation’s providers and care teams;” the sort of pain that not even TENS units can help mitigate. Because it is figurative pain. If it were literal pain, it would be a different story. Those are the words CEO and president of athenahealth Jonathan Bush used to describe the findings of a study published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. Researchers found that doctors spend 49.2% of their office day on EHRs and desk work, and only 27% on face time (not the Apple videotelephony product) with patients. Meanwhile, in examination rooms, physicians spend 52.9% of time on direct clinical face time and 37% on EHR and desk work. Finally, when they get home, they spend another 1-2 hours on electronic health records each night. In other words – or rather, in other numbers – physicians spend two hours on EHR for every hour they spend providing direct clinical face time to patients in a clinic day.

“Vendors like my company, athenahealth, and others have been required to develop EHRs that satisfy government regulations rather than the needs of providers and patients,” Bush writes. Easy on the self-promotion, there. By the way, TENS units are available at Discount Medical Supplies. Many of these vendors are happy to keep churning out EHR software, what with the over $30 billion in incentives the government has been kind enough to fork over. And the more money the government spends on EHRs, the more time doctors must devote to them, and the less attention patients receive. It’s a textbook vicious circle.

Additionally, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology’s limited authority to supervise EHR certification and adoption has turned “caregivers into box-checkers” who measure 21st century technological performance with 19th century technology — the clipboard and stopwatch” in a “nightmare… that only health care (or possibly Terry Gilliam) could conjure up.” Not quite sure about all of that, but bonus points for the Monty Python reference. According to Bush, it’s time to implement user-centric, network based technology which is the norm in most industries other than healthcare. “Improving quality while reducing costs and delighting providers and patients is the Holy Grail,” Bush concludes, in what may or may not be another Python reference. “Efforts are in the works around the country to advance price transparency.” Hopefully, one day electronic health record software will work like a well-oiled machine – or like so many TENS units, if you will.

Related: I'm a doctor, Jim, not a typist: Less EHR and more ER