Yves here. We’ve written about the pitfalls of electronic health records in the past. One of the surprising reactions is the “dazzled by technology” response of some readers. While there are problems with relying on paper-based records, and electronic records could in fact remedy many of them, a large swathe of the public seems unwilling to hear that what is good in theory may not turn out well in practice.
The sorry fact is that electronic health records, which in theory should reduce errors and allow for more consistent delivery of medical services, were instead designed only with patient billing and control over doctors in mind. As a result, they are if anything worsening medical outcomes. One indicator: as we reported, the latest ECRI Institute puts health care information technology as the top risk in its 2014 Patient Safety Concerns for Large Health Care Organizations report. Note that this ranking is based on the collection and analysis of over 300,000 events since 2009.
This is another example of crapification. Electronic medical records have been implemented, with apparent success, in other economics. For instance, when I lived in Australia from 2002 to 2004, it was normal for doctors to make use of them during patient visits, making entries into the system, and I never got the impression they found it onerous. Here, in New York City, I still see doctors making considerable use of paper records. As the article indicates below, the reason is the US systems are costly, lower productivity, and make doctors less likely to review patient information.
By Informatics MD, a medical doctor, and medical informatics professional via NIH-sponsored postdoctoral fellowship at Yale School of Medicine. Expertise in clinical IT design, implementation, refinement to meet clinician needs, and remediation of HIT projects in difficulty in both hospitals and the pharmaceutical industry. Former Director of Scientific Information Resources and The Merck Index (of chemicals, drugs, and biologicals) at Merck Research Labs. Faculty, Drexel University, College of Information Science and Technology, Philadelphia, PA.. Originally published at Health Care Renewal
The Indianapolis Business Journal has published this article, citing former head of Indiana University’s Regenstrief Institute, a world leader in EHR research, Dr. Clem McDonald:
The tragedy of electronic medical records
October 23, 2014
It wasn’t supposed to work out this way.
Digitizing medical records was supposed to transform health care—improving the quality of care and the service provided to patients while helping cut out unnecessary costs. Just like IT revolutionized all other industries.
Perhaps they still will. But lately, electronic medical record systems are getting nothing but votes of no-confidence from physicians, hospitals, insurers and IT experts.
Dr. Clem McDonald, who did more than anyone to advance electronic medical records during his 35 years at the Indianapolis-based Regenstrief Institute, called the 5-year, $27 billion push to roll out electronic medical records “disappointing” and even a “tragedy” last month during a talk with health care reporters (including me) at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.
I agree with those sentiments. The botched industry approach to clinical information technology has set back the cause of good health IT severely, largely through clinician disenfranchisement. That dissatisfaction and disappointment will not be easy to reverse – and never should have needed to have been reversed.
… “It’s sort of a tragedy because everybody’s well-intentioned,” said McDonald, who spearheaded one of the nation’s first electronic medical record systems at Regenstrief and what is now Eskenazi Health. McDonald’s work in Indianapolis on the electronic exchange of medical records put patients here at least a decade ahead of those in most of the country in benefiting from the technology.
I’m not so sure that perverse behaviors such as willful blindness to the risks, profiteering, and indifference to harms caused by these systems, as I’ve documented at this blog and elsewhere count as “well-intentioned” (e.g., “FDA on health IT risk: “We don’t know the magnitude of the risk, and what we do know is the tip of the iceberg, but health IT is of ‘sufficiently low risk’ that we don’t need to regulate it” (http://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/2014/04/fda-on-health-it-risk-reckless-or.html).
… McDonald now has a nationally influential post to promote electronic medical records, as the director of the Lister Hill Center for Biomedical Communications, a part of the National Library of Medicine, which is one of the National Institutes of Health.
During his talk, McDonald released his latest research survey, which found that electronic medical records “steal” 48 minutes per day in free time from primary care physicians.
That may be true regarding data entry time. I’d say the amount is likely more when accounting for confusion and communications difficulties that bad health IT causes.
… One-third of physicians surveyed said it took longer to find and review medical record data. One-third also said it was slower to read other clinicians’ notes.
“Some docs don’t even read reports any more. This is a perverse side effect,” McDonald said, noting that the electronic reports have so much information in them, that they become “endless and mindless.”
I have used the term “perverse” in the past regarding commercial health IT; this is the first time I recall seeing the term from one of the EHR pioneers.
… More bad news about electronic health records came out this week in a new research study. It found that physicians using electronic medical records spend an extra 16 minutes per day, on average, doing administrative tasks than their peers who still use only paper.
The study relied on data from 2008—which when compared with McDonald’s study suggests EMRs are now consuming more of doctors’ time than they were before the federal push to expand their use.
“Although proponents of electronic medical records have long promised a reduction in doctors’ paperwork, we found the reverse is true,” wrote study authors Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein.
Yet we still hear promises about “increased efficiency” and reduction of clinicians’ administrative tasks and paperwork due to health IT. When will that canard be put to rest, one might wonder?
In my view, the experiment of making clinicians perform EHR clerical work has been a failure.
And it was, in fact, an experiment in the full sense of the word. It was done with little clue as to the true effects on patient care.
From the article:
… So with so many so upset with electronic health records, why is McDonald still optimistic?
He thinks the problems folks are having aren’t inherent to the technology itself, but are instead caused by overly restrictive rules coming both from the federal government and from hospital systems.
Hospital systems, knowing that more information can be recorded now that it’s electronic, have insisted that doctors do more documenting. McDonald cited one research study that found that documentation requirements have doubled in the past decade.
“I think they’ve got to ask less,” McDonald said of hospital administrators. “Nobody has any idea of the time-cost of one more data entry.”
I don’t share that optimism or a belief physicians will be asked to “do less” with EHRs, since physicians have essentially abrogated their professional independence and autonomy, and are increasingly becoming servants of their business-degree masters – and of bad technology.
At least nurses are fighting back, e.g., per National Nurses United (see query link http://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/search/label/National%20Nurses%20United).