Mobile docs get most from their EHRs

Survey polled 600 physicians from a variety of medical specialties
By Eric Wicklund
10:12 AM
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One of the takeaways of a recent survey conducted by Software Advice indicates that mHealth users are better at using electronic health records – and getting more out of them – than doctors who use PCs.

It may say as much about the type of person who uses mobile devices as it does about the state of EHR adoption in the U.S.

The survey of 600 users from a diverse range of medical specialties and practice sizes, collected this year by Software Advice in collaboration with Research Now, found that 76 percent still access EHRs via a desktop or laptop, while only 26 percent use a tablet or smartphone, so mobile access isn't a top priority just yet. However, 58 percent of those accessing EHRs from a mobile device reported they were "very satisfied" with the EHR – but only 28 percent of non-mobile users were that happy.

[See also: Clinical mobility market grows by leaps.]

One reason for this discrepancy could be that mHealth users tend to be more technologically savvy, so they're more familiar with EHR technology and perhaps more apt to understand it. In fact, only 39 percent of those surveyed who use mHealth, the survey found, said they were challenged by EHR software, while 58 percent of non-mobile users encountered difficulties. Another reason? Mobile users might be accessing EHRs at home, after work, when they're more relaxed and more apt to work their way through any difficulties.

This trend carries over into workloads as well. According to the study, 73 percent of mHealth users reported that an EHR did not decrease productivity; only 42 percent of non-mobile users made that claim. That's an important point to make for mHealth: Clinicians who can access EHRs at the bedside, in the corridors or in the lab are likely getting more work done than the doctor or nurse who has to find the time in a busy day to sit down at a computer workstation or power up the laptop. In addition, with a 2013 Black Book survey noting that 89 percent of primary care and internal medicine physicians already using smartphones to communicate with other staff, using those same devices to access EHRs isn't that far-fetched.

[See also: Upward mobility.]

The survey goes on to ask some non-mobile-related questions, though those answers still have some bearing on the mHealth landscape. For example, 28 percent of those surveyed expect to increase their investment in EHR technology through the end of the year, while 54 percent said they'd keep their level of investment the same (in contrast, 13 percent said they weren't sure and only 9 percent said EHR investments would decrease through the rest of the year). This indicates that EHRs (whether new or replacing legacy systems) are still at the top of many to-do lists, pushing telehealth and mHealth investments to the back-burner.

More promising for the mHealth advocate is what clinicians say they're investing in with regard to EHRs. A full 36 percent said they're increasing their investment in patient portals, with the goal of not only meeting stage 2 requirements of meaningful use but giving consumers easier access to their medical records at any time and place (and from any device). This may be a subtle indication that doctors are taking to heart the shift to consumer-facing healthcare.

Also high on the list of increased investment is e-prescribing, with 29 percent saying they plan on boosting their investments. While a requirement for stage 1 of meaningful use, it's also one of the more popular tools of the mobile clinician.

Finally, according to the survey, 56 percent said integrating their current EHR with other systems represents a "major" or "moderate" challenge going forward, and 49 percent cited issues with EHRs slowing productivity.

Harkening back to the first survey questions, in which physicians who are comfortable using mHealth were more apt to be comfortable with their EHRs and to get more value from them, this would indicate that mHealth may represent an important step in the right direction for EHR adoption – at least for clinicians who try it out.