Healthcare News & Insights

Report: Doctors switch to paper records when EHRs don’t get the job done

As we’ve written before, doctors, nurses and others are often dissatisfied with the EHR system their organization uses. And apparently, sometimes things are so bad that clinicians will turn to paper charts to get the job done even when electronic records are available. 

As electronic health records become more commonplace, doctors, nurses and other people that use EHRs on a daily basis are becomingly increasingly frustrated with those systems. Many users report that the EHR systems their organizations have in place are difficult to use, decrease rather than improve efficiency, and come with sub-par technical support from vendors.

Overall satisfaction with EHR systems dropped by 12% in 2012 compared to 2010, according to a  study presented by the American College of Physicians and AmericanEHR Partners at the recent Healthcare Information Management Systems Society Annual Conference in New Orleans. In addition, among the 4,200 physicians surveyed, 39% said they would not recommend their current EHR system to a colleague — an increase from 24% who said the same thing in 2010.

That kind of dissatisfaction is leading doctors to find workarounds for poorly designed EHR systems, according to a recent from two VA medical centers published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association.

Researchers observed 120 doctors and other clinical staff members using EHRs at 11 primary care clinics. What they found was that users often resorted to using workarounds when an EHR system made it difficult to perform a necessary task. Often, that included using a paper-based process.

For example, some employees found it difficult enter patients’ answers to health screening questions into the EHR when the staff member who usually handled that task was absent. In those cases, the answers were written down on paper to be entered later.

In other cases, doctors and employees used handwritten notes to quickly pass along information to each other, because their EHR system didn’t have any capabilities for easy internal messaging.

And finally, for some of the clinics, paper records were kept because doctors didn’t trust the EHRs would always be available.

That prevalence for finding workarounds is bad news for healthcare organizations. If doctors and other staff aren’t using EHRs to their full capabilities, that means organizations aren’t getting the maximum value out of their health IT investments.

Part of the reason may be that doctors aren’t trained enough in the benefits of EHRs. But a large part of the problem is also likely that EHR systems aren’t easy enough to use. That’s why healthcare organizations need to get clinicians involved in the process of selecting EHRs, so the organization can be sure it’s getting a system its doctors will use.

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