When a dose of technology makes things worse

There’s a big push on to get doctors to adopt electronic medical records (EMRs) (sometimes called electronic health records (EHRs)) and physicians are starting to respond. All in all EMRs are a good thing: they improve the quality of record keeping, provide better access to information, and may reduce errors. I’d be happier if my doctor kept my record electronically than on paper.

Everyone knows EMRs are expensive and that there’s no proven return on investment. But there’s another problem that bothers me more: EMRs slow doctors down by burdening them with data entry work that is normally done by administrative staff. The result is that physicians who change from a paper system to an EMR experience reductions in the number of patients they can see, especially for the first year and often after that. That’s not good news for patients, especially in Boston where the waiting lists are longest. I’d rather see an emphasis on solutions that free up physician time even if it means higher labor costs in other parts of the system.

My aversion to EMRs is temporary. EMRs are getting easier to use and physicians setting up new practices are more computer savvy and don’t have the legacy of established paper based work flows. But established physicians looking to make the transition to EMR should think hard before doing so.

August 8, 2005

One thought on “When a dose of technology makes things worse”

  1. There is a recent podcast interview with Dr. Peter Basch at http://www.soundpractice.net that makes the case that now is a good time for practices to go to the EHR. There is a blog at the same site that discusses why docs are dinosaurs when it comes to Information Technology

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