Using EHRs to Their Fullest Potential: Barriers Still Exist

December 14, 2011
Marisa Torrieri

Your practice has adopted an EHR. But are your physicians truly using it?

Chances are, your practice has adopted an EHR. According to a recent survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 57 percent of office-based physicians used an EHR in 2011, up from 51 percent in 2010. 

Now comes the real question: Are your physicians truly using it?

As it turns out, buying an EHR and actually implementing (translation: using) it are two different things. Many practices have made the purchase and have the best intentions of using an EHR, but aren’t yet taking full advantage of their new system.

In a recent FierceHealthIT op-ed on the matter that caught our attention, writer Ken Terry pointed out that many physicians still only use “a small fraction of their EHR’s capabilities.”

For example, some physicians may refuse to enter data into an EHR, while others continue to handwrite their notes to use alongside their EHR instead of just using the EHR completely. Others haven’t set up a system where they can connect online with pharmacies, though their EHR allows it.

“Over half of the physicians using EHRs are not fully engaged,” Rosemarie Nelson, a Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) healthcare consultant, tells Physicians Practice. “Some continue to maintain or rely upon paper charts.”

Other barriers to full adoption include the lack of ability to successfully navigate the EHR, as well as lack of integration with other systems.

“If the practice does not have an interface with a lab, for example, the lab results are often just scanned in and it is cumbersome for a physician to view that scanned image online while trying to compare to previous test results,” says Nelson.

So if your practice has an EHR, how do you get your physicians more engaged in using it?

Heather Haugen, director of Health Information Technology CLSC Program at University of Colorado, who spoke during this year’s HIMSS 2011 conference, pointed out then that physicians need to first be engaged in the buying process.

Once a healthcare organization has clinician buy-in, the organization may begin to enjoy some of the benefits of having an EHR system, which include better patient outcomes and higher patient-satisfaction rates.

Another way to get staff and physician EHR buy-in is to re-examine workflow.

“Re-looking at the tasks and how the support staff can truly support the provider so that the provider does not inherit work that had been performed by the support staff in the paper world is a key workflow issue,” says Nelson.