Keith Loria is a contributing writer to Medical Economics.
A new report shows office-based physician EHR use has dipped below 60%
Todayâs healthcare environment is increasingly interconnected electronically. That means that everything from writing prescriptions to giving injections to dealing with state agencies needs to be turned into data that can be easily collected and shared.
In order for physicians to be able to effectively play in this new electronically connected world, the use of electronic health records (EHRs) is imperative.
âAlong with this need for data, physicians can benefit from EHRs by being able to review things like medication histories from other providers who are also prescribing electronically,â says Stephen H. Dart, senior director, product management for AdvancedMD, which provides cloud-based EHRs for the independent physician practice market. âThis prevents duplicate therapies as well as helps identify those who are seeking drugs or who are perhaps allergic to specific medications as determined by another physician.â
The big problem?, Not every physician is utilizing EHRs on a regular basis. A new report by SK&A Market Insights reveals that physician office EHR use has decreased by nearly 4% over the last year, clocking in at just 59% between 2015 and 2016.
While dips in EHR use were consistent across practices of various sizes, smaller physician practices saw the largest year-over-year decline.
Further reading: Patients unhappy with doctors' EHR use
Many experts feel that physicians who are still hesitant about EHR have good reason to be. EHRs have been difficult to use, outrageously expensive and decades behind other data sectors like those used in the banking industry.
The amount of time required of physicians to use EHRs compared with writing or dictating notes is causing the numbers to go down, says L.E. Shepherd. a member of the National Society of Healthcare Business Consultants (NSHBC) and CEO at BizAdvantix, LLC, which provides business resources to the health care industry.
âThe physician has to become a âScribeâ with an EHR, which disrupts the focus on the patientâs issues and, reduces physician productivity by 10-30 % depending on the EHR system and the physician,â says Shepherd. âWhatâs needed is better technology and higher reimbursement to compensate for the additional time required by the physician to use EHR.â
Dart theorizes that part of the challenge is that in todayâs regulatory-heavy world, physicians are not considered key stakeholders but the âdownstream beneficiariesâ of the regulatory changes taking place.
Further reading: Do I have to choose between an EHR and patient satisfaction?
âLegislatively directed usage will never carry the day since the physician never had his/her needs fundamentally considered in the drafting of the legislation that directly impacts their world,â he says. âWe need to reduce the regulatory burdens and use programs like Meaningful Use, and now MACRA, to give physicians options to play, experiment, and understand why some of the objectives are there and, most importantly, start pushing the data acquired back to them to show the benefits of such programs.â
There have been many challenges with EHR implementation. According to research by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, 3 out of 4 physicians believe that EHRs cost too much and can waste time.
âThey are not going away. Implementing and using EHRs is blend of art and science,â says Mitch Morris, vice chair and global leader for the Health Care Sector at Deloitte. âAdjusting workflow in the office, choosing the most user-effective software, and adapting to the change can make a large difference between an EHR improving efficiency and effectiveness as opposed to being a drag on the practice.â
Physician age is another factor affecting implementation. While younger physicians have been using EHRs since medical school and are accustomed to them, those in the last 30% of their practice life are reluctant due to costs and habit, among other things.
âThe diversity of systems without a universal record format and interoperability are extreme barriers to this group,â says Chris Zenger, CHBC, president of the NSHBC. âThe 4 to 9% of potential Medicare payment reductions is not enough to push this group of physicians into the EHR pool, in my anecdotal experience. Many will retire before it matters.â
But that world is changing quickly and better EHR alternatives are available now that actually deliver on the promises of digital health. The ability to access records securely online any time, to search across your patient population, to communicate with patients digitally and to participate in the advancement of patient outcomes are all key reasons to use an EHR system.