Physicians are delivering more bad news for the Affordable Care Act, specifically the provision that mandated all physicians convert to electronic medical records or EHR for short. Recent research suggests that despite the billions in investment toward EHRs, physicians using these systems don’t think they yet meet standards for functionality and cost-effectiveness. According to a recent national survey conducted by Medical Economics and research and strategic planning firm MPI Group, 79 percent of respondents indicated that their purchase of an EHR system has not been worth “The effort, resources and costs.” The publication surveyed about 1000 physicians in both primary care and specialty fields. In another statistic, 63 percent of all respondents indicated that they would not purchase their particular EHR system again. Even though the Federal Government has partially offset the cost of these systems subsidies provided in the 2009 stimulus, the majority of doctors don’t feel these resources have been wisely spent
Responses to the survey questions suggest that physician dissatisfaction with their EHR systems does not stop with high costs. Physicians also complain that EHR systems make them less efficient providers and interfere with patient-contact time. EHR systems are intended to ease the transfer of the most up-to-date patient records between health care facilities. A patient’s specialist in a hospital should be able to easily access the patient’s file from his or her primary care provider, for example, through the electronic system. The national survey results indicate, however, that many EHR systems currently in use are not effectively serving this purpose. Sixty-nine percent of respondents indicated that their systems have not improved the coordination of care between hospitals.
Comments from physicians indicated that their EHRs do provide some benefits to their practice. Many see electronic prescriptions as a benefit, and said that finding a patient’s medical record was generally easier with EHR than paper charts. These benefits, however, do not outweigh the costs of EHRs to medical practices. Many physicians also commented that using the systems slowed them down, and as a result they saw fewer patients and limited face-to-face contact with them. Lack of training to learn to use the systems and overall cost of hardware, software and maintenance of the systems also make the EHRs a burden to physicians. These survey results indicate that significant revisions to current EHRs will be necessary before health care providers can use them to effectively improve the quality of patient care. As one physician noted, “I think very little of EHR has been developed by clinicians for clinicians.”  Hopefully, more physician input will allow computer program developers to make the needed adjustments that will make EHRs user-friendlier to physicians.
Written collaboratively by Michelle Wan and Paul Smolen M.D.