EHRs are the problem, not the solution

Contrary to media and government rhetoric, today’s medical practices can survive without implementing an electronic health record. The EHR is simply a basic undoing of the way physicians customarily practice medicine. It’s an extremely costly approach and has even been shown to reduce productivity in the first year after implementation.

Hospital- and office-based physician groups that implement an enterprise document management solution not only survive – but also thrive – without an EHR.

That’s not to say they don’t need any technology. Unlike EHRs, document management software designed for healthcare enterprises provides significant efficiencies to a practice without changing the way physicians practice medicine or document patient exams. These solutions improve productivity, efficiency, and profitability without high costs, high risks of failure, and significant office disruption.

When comparing document management and EHR, it’s difficult to make an “apples-to-apples” comparison. That’s because document management was built from the ground-up as an operational solution while EHRs are built from the ground-up as clinical documentation tools. However, it is important to analyze how these business solutions will resolve the immediate needs of the practice and influence productivity.

Nearly 85 percent of respondents to a recent survey by the American Academy of Family Physicians said that quick access to patient records was the EHR feature that proved most beneficial to their practice. Medical practices utilizing an enterprise-grade document management solution achieve the same access to their medical records from any remote location in a manner to which they are already accustomed – without complicated and costly EHR applications.

A benchmark survey of 3,300 practices conducted by the Medical Group Management Association  in collaboration with the University of Minnesota indicates that medical practices found it significantly more difficult to implement EHRs than they had anticipated. In addition to the high initial purchase cost, respondents experienced up to a 15 percent reduction in productivity at least through the implementation and acclimation period, usually lasting a year or more. These factors, combined with a lack of reliable financial cost/benefit studies of EHR implementation, made it difficult to establish a business case for EHR adoption.

That same MGMA study reported that the average cost of implementing an EHR per physician is $33,000. (The license cost per physician is just a small portion of the total purchase price – with hardware, implementation and training service costs additional.)

Financial burden and lost productivity are clearly adverse byproducts of an EHR purchase. Coupled with a nearly 50 percent failure rate for EHRs, it is no wonder that many physician practices find the decision so daunting to move forward technologically. Caught in this Catch 22, many physician groups do nothing – and that’s no solution. Almost 65 billion pieces of paper bury today’s 750,000 practicing physicians, and those paper patient charts are not going anywhere any time soon until these medical practices do something.