According to current research, the higher the physician’s “gaze time” — i.e., the time spent directly watching and interacting with the patient — the more satisfied the patient with the quality of care.
However, in today’s healthcare environment, there are many other things that demand the physician’s attention. The most significant one is, arguably, electronic health record (EHR) systems.
The introduction of EHR to hospitals and clinics promised healthcare providers the ability to deliver higher quality care to patients. Based on existing research, that is, to an extent, true. Gains have been made both in terms of quality of care and organizational efficiency.
However, despite these challenges, physicians say that EHR has introduced a set of challenges of its own. Moreover, physicians assert that managing these challenges is time-consuming and, ultimately, takes away from their ability to satisfy patients.
How Physician EHR Usage Affects Patients Today
It would be wrong to argue that EHR hasn’t helped healthcare organizations. In fact, the opposite is true for both healthcare organizations and patients alike.
A study of 23 clinicians (including 21 physicians) found that EHR enabled healthcare providers to improve patient care by reducing serious medication errors by over 50%. The study had also noted that there was a downward trend in malpractice suits among physicians using EHR compared to physicians still using paper charting methods.
In a separate survey of 300 patients of a family medicine clinic (cited by The Journal of Family Practice), 75% of patients found that “they felt EHRs had a positive impact on their care.”
Physicians have also benefitted from EHR through numerous efficiency gains, such as fewer visits to the office and a reduction of errors when inputting or updating patient data.
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The Risks of Increased Physician EHR Usage
Complaints about EHR can start as soon as it’s implemented. For example, in the first month of EHR usage, some healthcare organizations have reported productivity losses of 20%.
However, this declined to 5% by the third month, and productivity returned to normal thereafter.
Nonetheless, an entire month where a hospital or clinic is only 80% as normally effective is not a trivial issue. And while healthcare organizations can restore efficiency, physicians are left to deal with long-term issues resulting from EHR implementation.
“The growth in poorly designed digital health records and quality metrics has required that physicians spend more and more time on tasks that don’t directly benefit patients, contributing to a growing epidemic of physician burnout.”
In a different study by Stanford Medicine (via PR Newswire), 71% of physicians said that EHR issues “greatly contribute to physician burnout.” Patients stand to lose entirely if physicians are unable to provide a high quality of care due to burnout.
Don’t Let Slow EHR Loading Speeds Add to Physician Stress
In addition to burnout, physicians are also finding that working with EHR systems takes away from the time they spend interacting with the patient directly.
According to the same study by Stanford Medicine, primary care physicians (PCPs) found that in a 20-minute patient visit, the PCP would spend 8 minutes dealing with the EHR system. In other words, the PCP spent 40% of their time with the patient on the EHR system.
How to Start Making EHR Implementations More Efficient
Be it physician burnout or the time taken away from patients by EHR management, these EHR -related issues pose a significant risk to the ability of hospitals and clinics to treat their patients in the best possible method.
It will be years, at least, for EHR implementation to be optimal, but the starting point would be to listen to what physicians are saying about the problem (and solution).
A study published by Deloitte in 2018 found that 62% of physicians are calling for increased interoperability between EHR platforms and easier ways to update patient data.
However, interoperability isn’t in the control of the healthcare organization, but the EHR industry. While steps are being taken in that regard, hospitals and clinics must focus on domains they can control, such as implementation, maintenance and training.