Health IT

Don’t be so sensitive: Constructive criticism won’t kill EHR momentum

The study by the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority is a timely one. When I talked about the findings with a contact this week — that EHR implementation is causing its own set of problems for some hospitals — I was surprised at his reaction. “It’s not like we’re going to go back to paper-based records,” […]

The study by the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority is a timely one.

When I talked about the findings with a contact this week — that EHR implementation is causing its own set of problems for some hospitals — I was surprised at his reaction.

“It’s not like we’re going to go back to paper-based records,” he snapped.

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No, but that’s not the point. We need these studies to figure out the problems that arise as hospitals convert paper-based records to electronic ones. How else can we improve the systems to avoid errors?

Electronic health records are reengineering the entire healthcare system. There will be a lot of efficiencies and benefits that improve the quality of care and patient outcomes. But with anything disruptive, there are downsides. While some providers are reaping the benefits of implementing EHRs now, many hospitals are a couple of years away from seeing those advantages.

You can take issue with a process without damning the overall goal or the underlying need. The real choice is implementing electronic healthcare records wisely or unwisely. One issue the study raised was that some hospitals are using paper-based medical records and EHR in tandem as if they are hedging their bets. They’re trying to make the transition gradual because they think that will make things easier, but when information is added to a patient’s EHR, they are failing to update the paper version and that’s causing confusion and creating the potential for medical errors.

Hospitals also need to have a contingency plan in place if the system shuts down when the hospital loses power. You only have to look at the impact of Hurricane Sandy on hospitals EHR to see the value of getting their contingency plans right and dreadfully wrong.

The healthcare reform debate is an emotional one and there’s no getting away from that. But the best way to ensure that massive overhaul is at least somewhat successful is to constantly test the systems that are being implemented, assess them and figure out the best way to improve them.

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