Surge of EHR messages a good thing, researchers say

Researchers say the increase in secure messaging among healthcare providers could be a good thing, allowing them to trace EHR "breadcrumbs" to improve both care and communication, the American Medical Association reported.

An AMA-supported study found a 29% increase in median daily message volume at St. Louis-based BJC HealthCare between July 2022 and January 2023, according to the Feb. 27 story.

"What's most striking is how little we know about this tool that seems to be largely adopted," the study's lead author, Sunny Lou, MD, PhD, an anesthesiologist with Washington University in St. Louis, told the AMA. "There's relatively little understood about what consequences this has had, what is the effect of people doing all this communication on people's work?"

Physicians spend nearly five hours in the EHR for every eight hours they have scheduled with patients, according to previous AMA-funded research cited in the article.

But all the data on this messaging provides an opportunity, researchers say. "Analyses of patterns and content of secure messages could help facilitate at-scale identification of areas for improved team functioning, delivery of clinical care, and design of EHR tools," according to a December commentary from physicians affiliated with San Francisco-based UCSF Health, Somerville, Mass.-based Mass General Brigham and Ann Arbor-based University of Michigan that was cited by the AMA.

Other potential quality improvements include identifying "instances of unclear or ambiguous communication regarding orders or clinical decisions" and which healthcare employees "are bearing the greatest burden of the EHR in their clinical work," those physicians wrote.

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