In the wake of the HITECH program, healthcare has been swift to adopt the electronic health record (EHR). Massachusetts in particular was one of the first states to embrace widespread adoption of the EHR… and we were also one of the first states to be disappointed by its many failures.
The growing pains surrounding the adoption of the EHR have been considerable. Our experience as consumers has led us to expect technology-enabled solutions to be intuitive and to increase efficiency—and many believe that available EHR systems have drastically failed to meet these expectations.
Physicians frequently lament that being beholden to these clunky, poorly designed systems—and the myriad demands of Meaningful Use—has both decreased the quality of patient interaction and clinical workflow efficiency. Physicians are tired of interacting with their computers and collecting data rather than creating meaningful relationships with their patients: so tired, in fact, that “increasing computerization of practice” is ranked 3rd on the top causes of physician burnout, according to a report published earlier this year by Medscape.
Additionally, there are staggering interoperability issues. EHR systems collect a massive amount of data, but this data is often not easily communicated between providers using different EHRs. Vendors and institutions are still struggling to find ways to make patient data safely portable and accessible so that providers can coordinate care effectively.
The Massachusetts Medical Society Committee on Information Technology, led by Dr. Glenn Tucker, has decided that it’s time for physicians, institutions and vendors to address these issues. They’ve recently adopted a set of seven principles that broadly outlines what healthcare IT should seek to accomplish and give voice to what physicians feel is missing from current solutions.
Many physicians feel as though EHRs—developed in some cases by software engineers woefully unfamiliar with hospital workflow—were foisted upon them by their institutions without having first proven their value. “We don’t have data yet that the EHR has improved quality and reduced the cost of care, and what data there is is certainly not commensurate with the 30 billion dollars that the federal government has spent,” says Dr. Hayward Zwerling, physician and Vice Chair of the Committee. “The idea was to create a set of principles surrounding health information technology that, if followed, would improve the quality of health information technology, improve the quality of the care patients get, and move health IT from a novelty to something that actually has real value.”
For Massachusetts Medical Society president, Dr. James Gessner, EHRs would certainly increase their value by becoming more interoperable , and by making personal data more easily available to patients. “These information repositories consist of tests, examinations, opinions, and reports of patient discussions,” he says. “They’re absolutely critical in avoiding duplication of care.”
At the end of the day, says Tucker, the principles are intended to help the Massachusetts Medical Society advocate for patients and help them receive the highest quality care possible without stifling innovation. “In the discussion about EHRs not many people are talking about the fact that there is a patient who is trying to get care, and coordinate their own care, and there’s a physician whose trying to deliver that care,” he says. “To do that effectively and well we need to have better innovation.”
More information, and the list of seven principles outlined by the Massachusetts Medical Society Committee on Information Technology can be found here.
Abby Ballou is the managing editor of MedTech Boston. She has a B.A. and M.Phil in English literature from NYU and the CUNY Graduate Center, respectively. When she isn't writing and editing for MedTech Boston, Abby enjoys reading, rock climbing, watching classic movies and listening to opera.
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