Across the country, electronic health records have been failing to deliver anticipated ROI following initial implementation. This has left many physicians and hospitals struggling to achieve system-wide adoption of EHR platforms, as staffers blame the system for perceived drawbacks and failures. Is the EHR itself responsible for less-than-ideal outcomes, or is something else at play? Just what is holding hospitals back from realizing the benefits of electronic health records?
Hospitals that have staggered the implementation of EHRs are, in fact, losing money and suffering from decreased productivity and patient satisfaction simply because they are unable to use the system the way it was designed to operate. The West Health Institute (WHI) recently estimated increasing interoperability between medical devices and electronic health records could save the healthcare industry more than $30 billion a year while simultaneously improving patient care. The benefits of EHRs are real, they just need to be realized.
Hospitals, clinics and practices that find themselves struggling to see real return from their EHR system need to look at current processes. If the system is not fully integrated and optimized, there is no way to measure accurately its impact on the organization or on patient care, or to realize the full benefits of electronic health records. Hospitals owe it to their patients, their staff—and their bottom line—to begin utilizing the system fully, the way it was designed.
How EHRs Got A Bad Reputation
When the U.S. government began its mandated EHR rollout , there was much written and studied about the ways these systems would transform hospital productivity and patient care. The information that would be shared between healthcare providers and clinicians would eliminate the backlogs of the healthcare system. Patients could travel to any hospital across the country and have access to their entire medical history. Millions, if not billions, would be saved by hospitals and clinics each year.
Here we are, nearly a decade later, and the disappointment in EHRs is palpable. A quick Google search of phrases such as “EHR failure,” or, “EHR ROI,” kicks back thousands of results, many of which are news stories that gleefully quote doctors and nurses from prominent hospitals who are quick to point out the ways in which EHRs stand in the way of providing great care. EHR systems have been blamed for errors leading to patient deaths , out of control hospital budgets , and they were even blamed for Ebola reaching the US in 2014. It would seem that, at least in the press, EHRs can’t seem to catch a break.
Why Don’t EHRs Live Up To The Hype?
These sensational stories come from a real undercurrent of dissatisfaction among healthcare providers. If you read the headlines, end users of EHRs sometimes feel as if they’ve been sold a bill of goods. They were told that electronic health records would improve workflow and accuracy and improve patient care. When an EHR is properly implemented, integrated and optimized, it will deliver on those promises. However, in an effort to hit meaningful use deadlines and save money, many hospitals and providers adopted staggered implementation, putting only a bare minimum of systems online.
The unintended consequences of those staggered implementations are real. Systems within a hospital or care network that are not fully integrated and optimized don’t actually share information. Some clinicians still take notes on paper. Some pharmacies can’t receive prescription orders from an internal system. Specialists still receive paper records from a primary care physician to get a complete medical history of a patient. Many administrators find themselves re-keying data that was already entered into one portion of the system because it doesn’t “talk” to another. The result has been chaotic and frustrating for both patients and providers, and the blame has fallen on the feet of the EHRs themselves.