Wasting Time: Are EHRs as Efficient as They Should Be?

Physicians responding to a survey complained about the time wasting nature of electronic health records (EHRs). Responding physicians reported an average loss of four hours each week due to filling out electronic records, according to a research letter summarizing the findings of a study that was published in the online journal of JAMA Internal Medicine. According to a report by National Public Radio (NPR), 60 percent of doctors surveyed reported that note writing takes longer with computerized records than before electronic records were implemented.

The Move Towards Electronic

The shift towards updating the way in which doctors create health records took a dramatic shift towards electronic systems  through the help of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act), which was enacted in 2009 as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) (P.L. 111-5). The HITECH Act encouraged the adoption and use of health information technology (HIT) by authorizing CMS to develop programs to incentivize the use of electronic health records and penalize eligible hospitals and professionals who did not comply. The HITECH Act also granted authority to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) to create programs such as the EHR incentive program.

Method

According to an article from U.S. News & World Report, in order to determine how the widespread use of EHRs is affecting the time of physicians, the American College of Physicians (ACP) sent a survey with 19 questions to 900 ACP members and 102 non-members. The surveyors received over 400 responses, with a 53.6 percent response rate. The respondents had collectively used 61 different EHR systems.

Findings

The results of the survey were clear—the majority of physicians expressed that they lost time as a result of their use of EHRs. Although the average loss for physicians was an average of four hours per week or 48 minutes per day, trainees experienced less time wasted with an average of 18 minutes a day lost to EHR systems. According to NPR, 22 percent of physicians reported that they had much less free time because of EHRs, 37 percent reported having somewhat less free time, 26 percent reported that the use of EHRs had no effect on their free time, 13 percent reported having somewhat more free time, and only 2 percent of responding physicians reported having much more free time due to the use of EHRs.

EHRs Aren’t Magic

US News reported that proponents of EHRs say that EHRs will bring cost savings, greater efficiency, and a reduction in medical errors. However, in the same article, US News reported that Dr. Clement McDonald, lead author of the study and director of the NLM Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications, said that “you can’t always do something magically faster with technology.” Although there is a great push to grow the use and efficiency of EHRs, the study suggests that there are still some substantial barriers to ideal EHR use. If the research letter reveals anything, it’s that, EHRs aren’t magic, and, at least for now, they are going to take a little time.