Physician viewpoint: How to remove 'stupid stuff' from EHRs

It's time to cut unnecessary work from the EHR, according to a perspective in The New England Journal of Medicine by Melinda Ashton, MD, a physician with Hawaii Pacific Health in Honolulu.

In the article, Dr. Ashton describes a program she and her colleagues launched in October 2017, called "Getting Rid of Stupid Stuff." In an effort to engage clinicians and reduce burnout, the program team asked all employees at the healthcare network to review their daily documentation practices and nominate aspects of the EHR they thought were "poorly designed, unnecessary or just plain stupid."

Along with fielding nominations from physicians and nurses, the team also conducted its own review of documentation practices, and removed 10 of the 12 most frequently ignored alerts the EHR pushed to physicians. The team also removed order sets that had not been used recently.

Dr. Ashton acknowledged the specific changes likely aren't relevant for other hospitals, but she advocated for the shift in mentality the "Getting Rid of Stupid Stuff" program initiated. "It appears that there is stupid stuff all around us, and although many of the nominations we receive aren't for big changes, the small wins that come from acknowledging and improving our daily work do matter," she wrote.

Here are four of the categories Dr. Ashton and her colleagues deleted from the EHR as part of the program:

1. One nurse who worked with adolescent patients asked to remove a physical assessment row labeled "cord," meant to reflect care of the umbilical cord remnant in newborns. The row, which was supposed to be suppressed for those older than 30 days of age, had still been present for other ages.

2. A nurse who cared for newborns said she had to click three times whenever she changed a diaper, as a result of EHR documentation for incontinence requiring the clinician to indicate whether the patient is incontinent of urine, stool or both. The team created a single-click option for children in diapers.

3. Multiple nurses highlighted the frequency of "head-to-toe" nursing assessments, which they are expected to complete upon assuming care of each patient. However, in some units, the EHR prompted nurses to document several of these assessments during a 12-hour shift.

"We sought to identify standards in the literature and found that some of our practices were in keeping with those standards," Dr. Ashton wrote. "In other units, we reduced the frequency of required evaluation and documentation."

4. An emergency medicine physician questioned why the EHR prompts employees to print an after-visit summary before scanning it back into the system. He hadn't noticed the patient was expected to sign the summary, which was stored in the record.

"His question led us to query other health systems and our legal team about the value of the signature, and we were able to remove this requirement," Dr. Ashton wrote. "The physician was delighted that he had been able to influence a practice that he believed was a waste of support-staff time."

To read Dr. Ashton's article in The New England Journal of Medicine, click here.

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