Are EHR Workflows Hurting or Helping Physicians?


February 10th, 2020

A new study reveals physicians spend more time on technology than patients. EHR workflows that are not designed for physicians could be the culprit.

ehr workflows

New Study Reveals Physicians Spend More Time with EHRs Than Patients

Electronic health records (EHRs) were supposed to revolutionize the healthcare industry, making it easier and more efficient for clinicians. After years of incentives, the majority of physicians leverage EHRs, but that doesn’t mean technology has solved the problem. The question is: are EHR workflows hurting or helping physicians?

New Study Shines Light on EHR Usage

The Annals of Internal Medicine published a new study about how long physicians spend on EHRs. The results reveal some cause for concern. On average, a doctor spends 16 minutes and 14 seconds using their EHR for every patient seen. Since the average patient visit is 30 minutes, half of the time is spent on the screen rather than solely with the patient.

The study included data from over 155,000 physicians cover over 100 million patient visits. The average time of usage was determined based on the user being active, not just being logged into the system. The activities were placed into three categories:

  • Chart review (33% of the time)
  • Documentation (24% of the time)
  • Ordering (17% of the time)

There are lots of tasks related to these three categories, and there is no way to know from the study if EHR workflows were efficient or if the user had any training. 

Technology Should Help, Not Hinder Physician Workflows

workflows EHR

Doctors have frustrations with EHRs. Those frustrations can lead to burnout, which is on the rise. MedScape released a report that found 44% of physicians feel “burned out.” Documentation requirements increase due to complexity and all the different areas of information needed. It’s not simply about entering information about the patient’s symptoms, treatments, and care. There is also the billing and coding component. 

Ideally, technology should help, not hinder physician workflows. If EHRs are not intuitive and don’t match physician workflows, then they’ll spend more time on the screen than with the patient. No doctor wants to do this. The expectation is that clinicians are intelligent and understand how to use EHRs. While that’s true, how many EHRs are actually designed to align with physician workflows? 

If it’s not intuitive, then why bother. In looking at the EHR satisfaction gap among clinicians, much of the time, it comes down to lack of relevant training. Of course, the other side of the argument is why should something “intuitive” need hours and hours of training!

What’s Wrong with EHR Workflows

It serves to reason that if workflows were more accurate, physicians would spend less on technology. That’s not to say that every EHR lacks efficient workflows, but often they may not be designed by actual users. Every EHR provider certainly takes into consideration the user experience but apparently not enough, considering the EHR dissatisfaction is often linked with burnout, according to a Mayo Clinic survey

Technology is a part of modern medicine, but it still has challenges and limitations. Overall, data management for healthcare continues to be a struggle. They have concerns with accessibility, portability, and interoperability. Those three things should be a given with healthcare technology and are certainly the foundation of the services we provide healthcare organizations. 

Until the industry reaches alignment with physician users, EHRs won’t decidedly be deemed as helpful rather than troublesome. 

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