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The Promise and Failure of Modern EHRs

Electronic health records (EHRs) are a critical step forward in modern medicine. Moving from paper to electronic records has the potential to increase efficiency, safety and savings in health care. Many believe EHRs are a key component of health reform. That’s because EHRs were supposed to make patient records more accessible, reduce medical errors, allow better coordination of care and, in the process, save the health care industry billions of dollars.

In 2009, the signing of the HITECH (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health) Act drove EHRs into nearly every physician’s office. Today, at least eight out of 10 office-based physicians in the U.S. are using an EHR—not even the smartphone has a higher rate of adoption.1

Despite their widespread use, physicians feel that EHRs don’t help them practice medicine. Physicians say that EHRs cost too much, lack standardization and interoperability, and hurt productivity. What’s worse, many feel it takes away from their ability to deliver quality care. In a 2015 survey of more than 600 medical practices, 69% of respondents said they would not recommend their EHRs to a colleague.2

A survey of almost 1,000 physicians sheds more light on EHRs’ negative impact3: 65% of physicians said their EHRs caused financial losses for their practice; Nearly 50% believed EHRs cost too much to implement; 45% said patient care was worse since implementing their EHRs; And about 69% said that coordination of care with hospitals has not improved.

Poorly designed EHRs are bad for more than just financial stability and the delivery of care—they could be hurting physicians’ health. One study found that primary care providers with the highest number of electronic medical record functions also had the highest amount of stress.4

When you consider that the federal government has spent $28.1 billion in health IT incentive payments,5 EHRs are an industry failure of tragic proportions.


1 Pew Research Center, U.S. Smartphone Use in 2015, April 1, 2015. http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/04/01/chapter-one-a-portrait-of-smartphone-ownership/ .  

2 athenahealth Inc. Epocrates Monthly Survey. May 2015.

3 Verdon, D. R. 2014, February 10, 2014. Physician outcry on EHR functionality, cost will shake the health information technology sector. Retrieved June 24, 2015, from: http://medicaleconomics. modernmedicine.com/medical-economics/content/tags/ehr/ physician-outcry-ehr-functionality-cost-will-shake-health- informa?page= 0,1.  

4 Babbott S, Manwell LB, Brown R, et al. Electronic medical records and physician stress in primary care: results from the MEMO Study. J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2014;21(e1):e100-e106.

5 As of December 2014. Available at: http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20150213/NEWS/302139932/ federal-health-it-payments-top-28-billion-after-december-surge.   

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