Freshening the bathwater while keeping the EHR baby

Thanks to the HITECH Act of 2009, EHR adoption has grown drastically in recent years. Today 96% of hospitals and 78% of physicians have invested in EHR technologies in hopes of improving the quality of care, increasing patient safety, reducing medical errors, and gaining overall efficiencies.

Furthermore, analysts expect the EHR market to continue growing to a whopping $35.2 billion by 2019!

Despite the many realized benefits of EHRs, and the significant investments of capital and manpower, provider satisfaction with EHRs remains lukewarm. In fact, the EHR replacement market is on the rise as more providers seek new alternatives for their legacy systems. The top reason for seeking a replacement EHR, according to one 2015 EHR software buyer report, is because providers believe their current system is too cumbersome or faulty.

Regardless of the level of physician dissatisfaction, however, most organization don't have the financial resources to invest in a new EHR every few years. Some entities may have the financial means, but are unwilling to go through the disruption that comes with implementing a new system. Still others are satisfied with their overall solution, but wish they could make tweaks to improve workflow efficiencies.

About three years ago, Phoenix Children's Hospital (PCH) fell into this last category. The PCH doctors were pleased with the inpatient version of their EHR, but were dissatisfied with the clinical usability on the ambulatory side. The physicians had defined what changes they'd like to see - namely enhancements that allowed users to document quickly via a dynamic and appealing solution that provided structured data.

Replacing the existing ambulatory EHR was not an option for PCH. Instead, administrators needed a solution that would enhance the clinical documentation process for its physicians, and easily integrate into their existing EHR. While attending the 2013 HIMSS Conference they identified a potential option. After a year of due diligence and evaluation, they elected to implement a pilot at their general pediatrics clinics.

PCH, which has a staff of nearly 1,000 pediatric specialists across 75 subspecialties, went live with the initial pilot of the clinical documentation solution in November, 2014. Within three weeks the physicians were reporting a 30% increase in the number of patients they were seeing, and were leaving the office by 5:00 p.m. Based on the positive results and the ease of implementation, PCH implemented the clinical documentation solution across the organization.

PCH's patients include many children with acute and complex conditions, which means timely patient care is critical. Prior to implementing the new clinical documentation solution, patients sometimes waited months for an appointment with a specialty physician. By streamlining the clinical documentation process with a solution that integrated with their existing EHR, physicians were able to chart faster and more efficiently, allowing PCH to deliver timely care to more patients than ever before.

As healthcare organizations continue to invest thousands, millions, and even billions of dollars into their EHR systems, most will be unable to justify switching entire platforms in order to address minor functionality gaps, or even to boost physician satisfaction and productivity. In reality, why should providers throw out their EHR "baby" just because they're in need of fresher bathwater?

The EHR market will continue to boom for at least a few more years. As the market continues to mature, I predict more organizations will follow PCH's lead and seek solutions that not only address limitations in their existing systems, but also integrate with legacy platforms. The reward for health systems will be a surge in happier physicians who appreciate the benefits of more streamlined and efficient workflows that enhance their productivity and address their clinical usability concerns.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

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