EHR use a 'frustrating' time suck, physicians tell American Medical Association

Physicians feel investments in electronic health records failed to offer substantial returns due to impractical technology
By Jessica Davis
01:14 PM
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Frustrated doctor

As the year draws to a close, more physician groups are making the case that stringent regulations and suboptimal technology have left physicians spending too much time grappling with their electronic health records.

It's not that physicians are against health IT. In fact, most have adopted technology "at a blistering pace," AMA President Steven J. Stack, MD, said at an EHR town hall in Boston in September. But unrealistic and uncoordinated requirements are overburdening physicians' time and affecting the quality of patient care.

This past week, AMA published a list titled "How EHRs tied up physician time in 2015." Based on top news stories, surveys and research, the association spotlighted the following:

1. EHR technology continues to underwhelm. AmericanEHR partners released survey results in the summer, revealing physicians felt EHR investments failed to offer substantial returns due to impractical technology. An AMA and MedStar Health framework found similar results, with only three reviewed products meeting basic capabilities, revealing low certification standards.

2. Meaningful use is outliving its usefulness. The federal program heavily concerns the physicians, as the new Stage 3 rules were pushed forward despite many objections from medical community members. AMA and 111 other medical associations have lobbied for relief.

3. Physicians are talking back -- and being heard. 2015 saw many campaigns to provide physicians with the ability to speak up about concerns, including EHR town halls hosted by AMA, online feedback forms and meetings with health IT developers. Congress and the Senate have even weighed-in, calling for Stage 3 delays.

Meanwhile, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons also put out a strongly worded complaint this week, charging that EHRs could "crash" the U.S. healthcare system. Its recent physicians survey finds that more than half of physicians are feeling burned out due to cumbersome mandates that punish providers who don't make standards.

[See also: 2015 survey results: Speaking out about EHRs.]

The AAPS survey found about 80 percent of the 571 physicians surveyed felt EHRs impede patient care and almost half say patient safety is at risk. Another 63 percent said confidentially is compromised with EHRs and 76 percent believed the systems represent "a cash cow for data miners."

"EHRs are supposed to be a cure-all for inefficiency and medical errors," said AAPS Executive Director Jane M. Orient, MD, in a press statement. "But the costly, clunky systems the government demands are worsening the problems and even driving some software experts back to paper."

Furthermore, fewer than 6 percent of respondents said EHRs improve patient care

Indeed, very few of the 305 physician comments from the survey were positive; the majority focused their complaints on inefficiency and productivity loss.

"It's a major distraction from face-to-face patient care and interaction, thereby increasing the chance of missing important information, and in the end, increasing the probability of clinical and treatment errors," one physician respondent said.

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Other physicians find EHRs often lead to errors: "I have made more errors since our conversion to the EHR than in the 38 years previous to that time," said another physician.

About 25 percent of the surveyed physicians plan to opt out of the government programs entirely, while another 29 percent will either return to paper records or continue to use EHRs.

"The federal government should have no role in telling how physicians how to keep their records," said Orient.

Twitter: @JessiefDavis