For the last couple of years, I have been listening to health IT experts and medical professionals debate over the usefulness of electronic medical records. There have been many reports confirming the benefits associated with EMRs while there have been a few which indicated otherwise. Given the inconsistency in feedback about EMR usage, providers cannot make a decision merely on account of these surveys and other reports. As EMR systems are a relatively new method of documentation, physicians and medical professional content with their workflows are reluctant to invest in this new technology.
They are faced with the dilemma of abandoning something that they are comfortable with and replacing it with something unknown. EMRs have been around for a while, but adoption has been limited to hospitals and large corporations. It was not until the cost effective SaaS EMR model made its way through that the overall adoption rates began to improve. The Meaningful Use incentives for EMR usage also played a vital role by providing smaller cash deprived practices with an opportunity to invest in EMR systems. ’It is like a quick payback. Incorporate all the upfront costs, hardware, implementation, training, and even subscriptions. It all gets paid back’, explains a physician attesting for meaningful use.
While the EMR adoption rates have recently increased, there is still skepticism surrounding the ability of an EMR solution to help improve practice productivity. Usability is a major problem for most novice users. System rigidity is a common grievance shared by most providers. However, EMRs have come a long way as they now offer customizability along with specialty specific template designs, but since electronic documentation is still a novel concept for most users, there is an obvious learning curve involved.
Most health IT experts will argue that practices that make an organized transition are more likely to achieve the benefits of electronic documentation. But even if we were to focus on the cost effectiveness and practice productivity, there are issues such as decreased patient interaction. ’The ideology of EMRs and connected care does appeal, but no physician wants to sacrifice face time with the patient to achieve that. Why does it have to be mutually exclusive?’ says one physician.
It doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive. Josh Andrews, a Health IT analyst explains that most physicians have learned to cope with these issues, stating, ’I have seen physicians use transcribing services. I have seen some using pre-configured notes and then there is voice recognition’. Josh believes that change can only come through education, ’Patients should be educated about EMRs and the benefits it provides them’, he said.
The healthcare industry in the US is at the cross roads. It could either choose to crumble under the pressure of onerous regulations and budgets, or evolve into something better. EMRs are the gateway to the future of healthcare; a future with connected care and better response times, a future with controlled costs and evidence based practice, a future with safer and quality care for patients.