My role in health IT is to focus on the technology solutions that support healthcare professionals’ work – whether it’s caring for patients or conducting clinical research to find new treatments. It’s easy to get caught up in discussions about applications, platforms, data lakes, integration and standards even though we know that the ultimate purpose of our work is to make it possible for clinicians and researchers to better serve their customers – patients.
While it is important for all health IT professionals to take a step back and look at our role as part of the whole picture, the day-to-day crunch of responsibilities makes it difficult – unless you are married to a physician as I am.
The Benefits and Complications of Digitalization
Everyone agrees that the transformation of healthcare depends upon digitalization of medical records, lab results and imaging studies to enable simpler, faster communication among different clinicians. Although great strides in technology are addressing the issues of integration and moving beyond siloed data, the people on the front lines – clinicians – face increasing dissatisfaction with the amount of time it takes to review results or enter information into medical records.
The time that my wife and other physicians spend clicking through different screens and moving back and forth between applications to review patient records or enter new information is not only frustrating but takes precious time away from the most important part of their job – spending time with patients.
Long-Term Impacts of Physician Burnout
In a survey of 6,375 physicians in the United States, in which the 84.5 percent of respondents used EHRs, the physicians using EHRs reported feeling less satisfied with the amount of time they spent on clerical tasks and at a higher risk for professional burnout.
Another study conducted by the RAND Corporation points out that senior physicians are most likely to be dissatisfied with nonintuitive user interfaces, information overload and template-based documentation that does not support higher quality, complete clinical notes.
The combination of dissatisfaction, burnout and aging, along with lower medical school enrollment, means that the United States could see a shortage of up to 120,000 physicians by 2030 according to a report from the Association of American Medical Colleges. Although physicians will always retire at some point in their career, I believe that health IT can minimize early retirements – which impact patient care as well as mentoring and education of younger physicians.
Helping Physicians Help Their Patients
Working together to address data integration needs in a way that supports physician workflow – minimizing time needed to enter or find information, offering the flexibility to document thoroughly, and making systems user-friendly and intuitive – will enhance rather than hinder a physician’s ability to spend time with patients. This is not a problem that can be solved by one vendor or one segment of the health IT community. It is not just an EHR, an application, an integration platform or a suite of services – it is all vendors and users working together to create a process that enhances clinicians’ workflows and improves their satisfaction with the technology we offer.
Health IT can transform the way care is delivered. We just need to remember that our job is not just to provide technology, but to provide a better way to provide care.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog or by commenters are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HIMSS or its affiliates.
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Originally published October 12, 2018; updated July 8, 2019