David Lareau

Four ways to maximize value from your EHR and improve usability

March 26, 2021
By David Lareau

Your user-unfriendly EHR may be driving clinicians out of healthcare, diminishing the patient experience, and costing you money. As a paper recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association (JAMIA) notes, despite “basic federal requirements promoting a user-centered design approach to electronic health record (EHR) development and usability testing,” EHR usability remains a major hurdle for healthcare organizations.

Even after facility-specific customization, configuration, and training, too many healthcare workers struggle with their EHRs. Another study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research shows that 75% of clinician respondents “who reported burnout symptoms identified the EHR as a contributor. Lower satisfaction and higher frustration with the EHRs were significantly associated with perceptions of EHR contributing toward burnout.”

Physician burnout creates a corrosive loop of clinician depression, depersonalization, inadequate care, low patient satisfaction, negative feedback, and unprofessional behaviors (up to and including substance abuse). The result is a dysfunctional healthcare system that is continually drained of clinical talent and fails to serve the needs of patients.

While authors of the study published in JAMIA say vendors are “beginning to address aspects of EHR implementation that play a critical role in shaping EHR usability,” it is imperative that healthcare decision-makers prioritize initiatives to improve the EHR user experience. Specifically, stakeholders should maximize value from their existing EHRs by focusing on these four core areas:

1. Improving patient care
In a way it shouldn’t be surprising that EHRs do a poor job of enhancing patient care because they really aren’t designed for that purpose. Nor were EHRs designed to meet the needs of clinicians. Rather, EHRs were developed so billers and coders could get the patient, diagnostic and treatment information required for them to do their jobs. Unfortunately, this leaves clinicians struggling to input and find data at the point of care, which detracts from their ability to focus on the patient and leads to job dissatisfaction and burnout.

The last thing a clinician wants to do during a patient visit is tap away on the laptop while desperately trying to locate information. EHRs need streamlined workflows so clinicians can quickly find patient- and condition-specific information at the point of care. An effective EHR workflow for point-of-care use would include a comprehensive review of all data in the chart, real-time filtering of information, and highlighting of potentially relevant data point for the user.

Technology must enhance the ability of clinicians to provide quality care, not act as a barrier. Thus, it is essential that healthcare leaders provide tools that liberate clinicians from the drudgery of data entry and allow them to focus on patients. To improve patient care, leaders must implement tools that enable clinicians to serve patients and not act as data entry clerks. Technologies that automatically capture billing and coding details from a clinician’s documentation allow clinicians to provide better care.

2. Increasing physician productivity
User-friendly EHR workflows can have a huge impact on physician productivity and satisfaction. If clinicians can easily access information when they need it, they can spend more time on patient care and they can see more patients because they’ve eliminated the time wasted finding and entering EHR data.

Workflows that support the automatic identification and interpretation of patient medical information from previous visits, lab reports, inpatient records and other sources can quickly provide clinicians with relevant information, saving them time and avoiding unnecessary frustration. And a more productive physician results in increased patient satisfaction, happier staff, greater efficiencies and ultimately, an improvement in the bottom line.

3. Managing operational expenses
Streamlined clinical and documentation workflows mean greater efficiency, which provides opportunities for healthcare organizations to reduce operating expenses. The need for transcriptions, for example, can be reduced if clinicians have the documentation tools necessary to quickly capture information about a patient visit at the point of care. The more that documentation requirements can fit into the natural clinical workflow – without creating additional burden, the less work for clinical and administrative staff who can then focus on patient care and more revenue generating activities.

Automating manual processes can save time and eliminate human error, resulting in more accurate and complete clinical documentation, coding, and billing records. Organizations can also benefit from technologies that support value-based care programs by offering access to high-quality data for queries and reporting.

4. Ensuring accurate reimbursement
Providers can’t get paid what they’re supposed to if they don’t submit accurate information to health insurers. Providers primarily have relied on retrospective, manual chart reviews to uncover possible documentation and coding gaps. If a gap is identified, patients may be asked to make a follow-up visit.

Clearly this is at best an inconvenience for the patient and clinician, and at worst a waste of valuable time and resources that is replicated thousands of times each day. To minimize data entry while ensuring the right information is captured for accurate reimbursement, EHRs need technologies in the background that can verify billing, coding, compliance, and quality measurement.

Instead of relying on inefficient and error-prone manual methods, physicians can immediately address any treatment, documentation, or coding gaps while patients are still in the exam room. More accurate documentation and coding ensures accurate reimbursement.

An EHR that is difficult to use can lead to physician burnout and lower quality of patient care. By focusing on enhancing patient care, improving clinician productivity, ensuring accurate reimbursement, and reducing operating expenses, healthcare organizations can dramatically improve the usability of their existing EHRs.

About the author: David Lareau is the chief executive officer of Medicomp Systems, which provides physician-driven, point-of-care solutions that fix EHRs.