Healthcare News & Insights

3 downsides of EHRs – and how to fix them

When the right choices are made, an electronic health record (EHR) system can be a great investment for a healthcare provider. But organizations also must prepare for potential negative consequences and disappointing outcomes. 

Although most healthcare providers are using or considering electronic records, many organizations experience negative outcomes when they switch to EHRs, according to a recent Medscape survey of 21,000 physicians.

The survey saw rapid growth in EHR adoption, as 75% of respondents are using EHRs, compared to 38% in 2009. What’s more, an additional 20% plan to implement a system within the next two years. Many are qualifying for federal incentives, as 44% have already achieved meaningful use, and 31% will do so within the next year.

Aside from those incentives, EHRs bring other benefits, including improved patient safety, greater efficiency, and better communication and decision making.

But healthcare providers rushing to install EHR systems may be disappointed with the initial results. In fact, many of the organizations surveyed said EHRs had a negative impact on their operations, and only 62% said they were satisfied with their EHR system.

These are the biggest reasons providers saw negative results when they started using an EHR system — and what your organization can do to prevent them:

1. Lower productivity

One EHR benefit providers often plan for is that the system will make their operations more efficient and their staff more productive. But that doesn’t always happen, at least not at first. In fact, 26% of respondents said their EHR system has reduced productivity in their organization. That’s compared to just 23% that experienced greater efficiency and 15% that saw productivity increase.

What providers can do: That drop in efficiency often comes because doctors, nurses and other staff members are now working in a system that’s different from how they used to work. Minimize the impact by making sure everyone is trained properly, and consider adding staff temporarily when an EHR system is first installed.

2. Damaged doctor-patient relationships

The good news: There are more doctors who say EHRs have had a positive impact on their relationship with patients than those who say the effect has been negative. The bad news is that it’s much closer than it should be — 36% cited a positive impact, while 30% said it was negative. The remaining 34% saw no impact.

What providers can do: Among doctors who say EHRs have hurt their doctor-patient relationships, most said it was because the system means they have less eye contact with patients, or that there is less time for face-to-face conversations. Providers can help by organizing exam rooms to allow the doctor to face and look at the patient while working on the computer. Also, doctors can try using the computer to share test results and other content with patients.

3. Dissatisfaction with the vendor or EHR system

Very few survey respondents said their organization plans to switch to a different EHR systems soon — but that doesn’t mean they’re all satisfied with the one they have now. While only 10% of organizations are dissatisfied enough with their EHR that they’re planning to change, another 28% are dissatisfied but had already put in too much time and money to make a switch.

What providers can do: Many of the physicians surveyed said they dislike their system, but it was chosen by the organization and they have no power to change it. However, when providers choose an EHR system, they must make sure they get input from the people who will actually use it — that includes doctors, nurses and other staff members. Otherwise, users are likely to be dissatisfied and won’t use the system in a way that gets the most out of the organization’s investment.

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