THE BLOG

9 Reasons Doctors Hate Their EMR

11/25/2013 10:48 am ET | Updated Jan 25, 2014

If you have visited your physician in the last five years, you probably noticed how they do their best to give you their full attention -- while simultaneously trying to document your conversation on the keyboard of a computer or tablet.

It is illegal to text and drive at the same time, but the requirements of the electronic medical record (EMR) make these simultaneous activities mandatory in your doctors office.

You already know how it often comes between you and a satisfying interaction with your doctor, NP or PA. Well, physicians hate it even more than you do. Now we have nine specific reasons why.

The results of the Physician Satisfaction Study, sponsored by the RAND corporation and the AMA, became available last week and all 122 pages are a treasure trove of information on how to lower stress, prevent physician burnout and create more satisfaction in your organization.

One of the biggest items found to interfere with physician satisfaction is the current state of electronic medical records documentation

=> Physicians found three things to like about their EMR
=> And nine ways EMR interferes with quality patient care and physician satisfaction
=> A full 18 percent of the participants still want to go back to paper charts

The researchers went on to make this statement which, while true, is of little consolation if you find yourself working into the evening hours to get your EMR based documentation completed.

"We found that EHR usability represents a relatively new, unique, and vexing challenge to physician professional satisfaction. Few other service industries are exposed to universal and substantial incentives to adopt such a specific, highly regulated form of technology, which has, as our findings suggest, not yet matured."

Specific Study Findings

Quote:

"We found that EHRs had important effects on physician professional satisfaction, both positive and negative. In the practices we studied, physicians approved of EHRs in concept, describing better ability to remotely access patient information and improvements in quality of care. However, for many physicians, the current state of EHR technology appeared to significantly worsen professional satisfaction in multiple ways."

Worsened Professional Satisfaction:

I am going to simply provide paragraphs directly from the report below. If you are a physician, I am certain you will see your personal frustrations well represented.

1) Time-Consuming Data Entry
"The majority of physicians who interacted with EHRs directly (i.e., without using a scribe or other assistant) described cumbersome, time-consuming data entry."

2) User Interfaces That Do Not Match Clinical Workflow
"Beyond data entry, physicians and their colleagues described EHR user interfaces that, in important ways, hampered rather than facilitated their clinical workflow. Non-intuitive order entry was particularly problematic."

3) Interference with Face-to-Face Care
"Multiple physicians who entered their notes via keyboard described their EHRs as interfering with face-to-face patient care. Many of these physicians blamed themselves for lacking the ability to type without compromising the level of attention they could devote to patients. These physicians faced a difficult trade-off: divide attention between the patient and the computer, or defer data entry until after leaving the patient, lengthening overall work hours."

4) Insufficient Health Information Exchange
"Physicians in multiple specialties and a range of practice settings described frustration when health information was not exchanged between EHRs. Even when practices invested in EHRs, faxes were a common mode of communicating patient information between care settings."

5) Information Overload
"Some EHR products feature automatic email alerts to physicians. For primary care physicians in particular, this has created a sense of information overload -- the unceasing volume of messages reaching them has expanded beyond the number that they believe they can handle diligently."

6) Mismatch Between Meaningful-Use Criteria and Clinical Practice
"Both primary care and subspecialist physicians noted a mismatch between meaningful-use criteria and what they considered to be the most important elements of patient care."

7) EHRs Threaten Practice Finances
"Some physicians, especially those who owned or who were partners in their practices, reported that investing in EHRs exposed their practices to significant financial risks. In particular, the costs of switching EHRs -- which could become necessary due to factors beyond a practice's control -- were of high concern."

8) EHRs Require Physicians to Perform Lower-Skilled Work
"Physicians who did not use scribes reported that their EHRs required them to perform tasks below their level of training, decreasing their efficiency."

9) Template-Based Notes Degrade the Quality of Clinical Documentation
"While some physicians described using templates (or "macros") to ease the writing of clinical notes (i.e., to overcome data entry problems), many described misuse of template-based notes as a significant threat to both clinical quality and professional satisfaction. Such notes were described as complicating the task of retrieving useful clinical information. This problem was reported by physicians in all specialties and practice models included in the study."

The researchers go on to state two more findings I believe are significant:

a) Things don't get better with time:
"In our sample, there was no significant relationship between overall satisfaction and the length of time since EHR installation."

b) More is definitely not better:
"In addition, physicians whose practices reported having greater numbers of EHR functions (with higher numbers indicating more advanced and possibly more complex EHRs) were less likely to have high overall professional satisfaction."

Improved Professional Satisfaction:

Here are the three areas where physicians felt that EMR provided some benefits.

1) Better Access to Patient Data
"Physicians in multiple specialties and practice models noted that their EHRs improved their abilities to access patient data, both in health care settings and at home."

2) Improved Tracking of Guideline Compliance and Disease Markers
"Physicians and administrators in some practices described how EHRs improved their ability to provide guideline-based care and track patients' markers of disease control over time. These advantages were predominantly noted in primary care practices."

3) Better Communication with Patients and Between Providers.
"Interviewees described enhanced communication through the medical record itself (e.g., by facilitating access to other providers' notes and eliminating illegible handwriting) and through EHR-based messaging applications (e.g., patient portals). Improvements in between-provider communication were most commonly noted in larger practices, where all providers were on the same EHR."

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There you have it. With a score of nine to three, the "nay's" have it (at least here in 2013).

Despite this damning report, the majority of physicians these days are dealing with one or more EMR systems to document their clinical activities these days. If they do deal with more than one -- for instance one in the office and another in the hospital -- the odds are they don't communicate with each other.

Until the actual technology improves and there is a smaller number of standardized documentation programs -- the only option that makes sense is for doctors to become a power user of their current system(s) and hope they stay constant in the years ahead.

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-- About the RAND/AMA 2013 Physician Satisfaction Study:
Began on October 22, 2012, and was completed on September 30, 2013. Sought to identify "high-priority determinants of professional satisfaction". The study gathered data from 30 physician practices in six states: (CO, MA, NC, TX, WA and WI) Practices were selected to achieve diversity on practice size, specialty, and ownership model.They conducted semistructured interviews with a total of 220 informants and fielded a survey to 656 physicians, receiving 447 responses (68-percent response rate).
[here is a link to a .pdf file of the full study report it's free ]
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Dike Drummond, M.D., is a family physician, executive coach and creator of the Burnout Prevention Matrix Report with over 117 ways doctors and healthcare organizations can work together to prevent physician burnout. He provides stress management, burnout prevention and leadership development services to physicians through his website, TheHappyMD.com.