The Right Tool vs The Best Tool: EHR Usability and Physician Burnout

When is the right tool for the job not the right tool for the job?

The saying goes, “a person is only as good as the tools they use.” A tool that’s right for the job doesn’t necessarily make it the tool you should be using. A house can be built with hammer and nails, but no builder in their right mind would arrive at a job with only those two items in their toolkit. The time it took to accomplish a project alone would easily overshadow the upfront “technology” savings.

Having access to the right health information technologies (HIT) for the right jobs is a clear clinical workflow necessity. By analyzing the usability of tools like an electronic health record (EHR) system, providers can begin to make informed solution decisions that positively impact their physicians.

How Usable is Your EHR?

Of course, care coordination and home construction are vastly different. Even so, in this example we see how the right tool will get the job done, but with limited usability even the right tool can turn a process on its head.

When the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act  listed the transition to EHRs as part of meaningful use compliance it was expected to cause disruption. Over a decade later, some EHRs are still causing disruptions, specifically for clinicians who find they often disregard their workflows.

A study from the Mayo Clinic Proceedings revealed a strong correlation between EHR usability and physician burnout. In fact, when a subset of survey respondents was asked to grade their current EHRs usability, the final tally of scores resulted in an F for failure.

Beyond a physician’s mental and physical health, there are other dangerous side effects of physician burnout. Preventive screenings can be overlooked. Documentation can go missing. Medical histories can become compromised.

“Physician burnout is a real healthcare crisis,” says Doug Allen, MEDHOST Senior Vice President, Implementations. “When EHRs are one of the leading causes of physician burnout, vendors like MEDHOST can help hospital leadership connect physicians to tools that can help turn the tables.”

A physician-centric EHR that also helps reduce patient safety risks should have the following characteristics.

How to Ensure EHR Usability

  1. Alignment with Clinical Workflows

The operation of an EHR and its interface should not hinder a user’s ability to efficiently perform his or her job.

  • Robust clinical integrations
  • Straightforward menu structures
  • Relevant fields with minimal requirements
  • Minimized clicks

All of the above features are indicative of an EHR that is tuned to a clinician’s workflow.

A properly aligned EHR will also reduce the amount of time clinicians spend focused on their monitor versus spending time with their patients. The majority of care should occur provider-to-patient, not provider-to-computer. If clinicians find they are spending more time at a keyboard than at the bedside, it is likely EHR usability is not optimized to their workflow.

  1. Streamlines Data Between Care Settings

An EHR should allow for the seamless flow of documentation between all stages of the clinical workflow. From the admissions desk to labs to nursing stations to healthcare information exchanges, the need to switch between platforms should be marginal. An EHR with some form of single sign-on (the ability to connect to multiple independent systems via one gateway) is ideal.

  1. Regular System Maintenance

In most cases with a remote hosted EHR solution, timely maintenance at regular intervals will be handled by a dedicated team of healthcare IT specialists. For example, a reliable offsite host will schedule routine maintenance cycles and system performance improvements. By keeping a hospital informed on EHR maintenance, planned downtimes can be coordinated to minimize care disruptions.

Hospitals with an on-premise EHR will be responsible for performing their own system maintenance, which will usually fall to an internal IT team. However, hospitals with on-premise EHRs should still receive regular notifications on required system maintenance from their EHR provider. Regardless of who is running system patches and firmware upgrades, an EHR provider should always prioritize maintenance awareness. Staying on top of EHR technical requirements can help improve hospital security and limit exposure to threats.

  1. EHR Implementation Informed by Healthcare Expertise

A scalable solution will save a hospital time and money as well as demands on human resources. Scalability can often be measured in two portions – one-part user interface and one-part user experience. There is also a third part to help ensure optimal EHR usability at scale. The people tasked with implementing an EHR must have an intimate understanding of the end-user’s needs.

An implementation team made up of people with role-based, hands-on experience with healthcare IT systems can often solve the puzzle of scalability with greater accuracy. There should be zero expectation that all clinicians will use the EHR in the same way. Templated EHR features have their place; however, the most useful EHR implementations are tuned with specific users in mind.

Healthcare expertise and real-world experience in EHR implementation can help hospitals avoid systems laden with inefficiencies and broken integrations.

A Blueprint for EHR Usability

Modern healthcare has become increasingly complex. A quickly implemented EHR that simply covers required documentation and care coordination bases should reduce upfront expenses, but at what cost. Once the implementation team leaves the building, it may become clear all too soon that there is a clear difference between the right tool and the best tool.

The return on an investment in EHR usability can have a lasting impact on both a hospital’s bottom line and its people. An investment in EHR usability is an investment in your physicians. Conversely, by empowering physicians with healthcare IT tools tuned to their needs, a hospital is also investing in improved patient care.

Show your physicians you appreciate them and help keep their flame for patient care burning bright. Call us at 1.800.383.6278 to learn how we can help.

Further Reading:

How Rural Providers Can Use EHRs to Improve the Patient Experience

How to Leverage Your Hospital EHR to Beat Physician Burnout

How 5 Physician Documentation Methods Compare to Facilitate Safer Care

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