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Doctors say electronic health records cause frustration, burnout

The transition from paper to electronic health records [EHRs] was intended to make it easier for health professionals to access and share patient health information, improve efficiency and reduce medical errors. But it has had the opposite impact … leading to increased workloads, frustration and burnout among doctors, according to a recent cooperative study between Yale and Stanford universities, the Mayo Clinic and the American Medical Association.

Physicians and other healthcare providers surveyed gave their current EHRs an “F” grade for overall usability. The constant frustration of working with these systems – and the amount of extra time they take to maintain – also is contributing to high rates of professional burnout, the study showed.

Many physicians included in the research said they spend one to two hours on EHRs and other administrative work for every hour they spend with patients, and an additional one to two hours daily of personal time on EHR-related activities.

“As recently as 10 years ago, physicians were still scribbling notes,” said lead study author Edward R. Melnick, assistant professor of emergency medicine and director of the Clinical Informatics Fellowship at Yale. “Now, there’s a ton of structured data entry, which means that physicians have to check a lot of boxes. 

“Often this structured data does very little to improve care; instead, it’s used for billing. And looking for communication from another doctor or a specific test result in a patient’s chart can be like trying to find a needle in a haystack,” he continued.  “The boxes may have been checked, but the patient’s story and information have been lost in the process.”

EHRs were rolled out on a national level following passage of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act of 2009. Their rapid introduction forced doctors to adapt quickly to the complex systems.

By benchmarking physicians’ current feelings about EHRs, Melnick said, it will be possible to track the impact of technology improvements on usability and burnout. The study was published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

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