Docs: Interoperability will be great, if it ever gets here

Survey shows physicians believe in interoperability’s potential to improve their practices, but are burning out while they wait

Physicians are still waiting on the promises of interoperability after years of waiting, according to a survey by athenahealth. Doctors say technology and data have enhanced the quality of care, but have yet to reach their full potential.

For example, while 66% say that sending and receiving patient data with another provider within their EHR network is easy, only 24% say the same about sending and receiving data with a provider on a different EHR.

This inability to share data between information systems increases stress levels in 80% of survey respondents. When asked what the hurdles are, physicians say a lack of coordination among facilities and health systems (65%), lack of desire from EHR vendors (61%), cost (59%), and a lack of data standardization (57%) are the main reasons.

However, doctors see the potential of interoperability, if ever fully realized. The vast majority of those surveyed said it can enhance patient outcomes (94%) and the overall physician experience (91%).

“It’s clear that true interoperability requires more than merely moving data between systems,” said Jessica Sweeney-Platt, vice president of research and editorial strategy at athenahealth in a statement. “Physicians need and deserve tools that deliver an interoperable experience – the right information, in the right place in their workflow, in a format that is immediately usable.”

Physicians overwhelmingly recognize the promise of technology, according to the survey, with 90% saying with better patient data they would have more confidence in their ability to support patient needs, and 85% saying with easier access to data they would provide a better patient experience. Moreover, 78% say when they enter an exam room today, they have adequate information about the patient's medical history and the context for the visit, and 71% of respondents report EHR platforms allow them to provide high-quality care.

Despite this, 59% of physicians say they are frustrated by the challenges of accessing clinical information on a weekly basis, 58% say that at least once a week they feel so overloaded with information that it boosts their stress level, and 89% say receiving clinical data alone is not the answer.


“Sometimes my EHR gives me an encyclopedia and all I really need is a dictionary,” said one respondent. In addition, only 51% say technology is helping provide care that addresses social determinants of health.

Physicians noted that technology, such as patient portals, has helped improve communication, but not without a downside; 54% of respondents say technology has diminished their ability to make an emotional connection with patients. In addition, physicians noted that the increasing number of patient inquiries has contributed to burnout, as they must take time outside of their normal workday to respond to inquiries.

The survey also found that health care is facing the same hiring challenges as other industries, with 80% of physicians reporting they face talent shortages within their organization. At the same time, patient volumes have increased, and 68% of respondents report feeling rushed on a weekly basis and not having enough time with patients.

The result of all this are signs of burnout, with 92% of physicians reporting one or more issues that lead them to feel burned out on a regular basis. Respondents say the leading causes of burnout include excessive documentation requirements (57%), staffing challenges (51%), regulatory requirements (42%), with 91% saying regulatory requirements are getting worse. Doctors also say that their organizations are not set up to minimize administrative tasks (72%), with 63% saying they feel overwhelmed by them each week.

As for the future of health care, 48% say they are optimistic, while 52% are not.