The Potential Perils of the EMR Inbox

We all face the challenge of an email inbox that just won’t quit: The little counter next to your inbox rises exponentially throughout the day and your to-do list gets longer and longer. One study found that email is the second-most time-consuming activity for American workers, right behind “role-specific tasks,” with 28 percent of their time spent reading and responding to messages.

If you’re like me, you have no hope of ever reaching “inbox zero.” You just declare email inbox bankruptcy and do your best to respond to the important, actionable messages among the never-ending stream. Now a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals that physicians’ electronic medical record (EMR) inboxes are reaching the same critical levels: Primary care doctors now lose more than an hour a day to sorting through approximately 77 EMR notifications.

Overflowing EMR inboxes are something I’ve been hearing about for a long time from Spok customers, who have expressed frustration with the many hours they’re spending on EMR notifications and messages—valuable time they’re not being reimbursed for.

“Information overload is of concern because new types of notifications and ‘FYI’ messages can be easily created in the EMR (vs in a paper-based system),” the researchers explain. They call for strategies to help filter messages relevant to high-quality care. The reality is that those filters don’t exist yet, and EMR vendors are continuing to develop more communication applications that deliver more notifications.

What Spok customers know is that they already have that filter in the form of a different communications tool that is integrated with their EMR and workflows: Spok Mobile®. We created Spok Mobile with three key customer needs in mind:

1. Messages need to be secure both in-flight and on the device

2. Communications must be completely traceable, with a message audit trail

3. Communications have to be differentiated from less critical, non-clinical messages

The last one is the most relevant when comparing Spok Mobile messages to the EMR inbox. Spok Mobile is different because the messages it sends and receives are critical. A Spok Mobile message isn’t just another email, it’s not a text message from your spouse, and it’s not an EMR inbox FYI notification.

Spok Mobile is designed for critical messages, so the priority of these messages is clearly identified in terms of the alert tone, appearance, and repetition. This is done to assure that every message of a critical nature—such as Code Blues, critical messages from hospital operators, nurse call alarms, and patient monitor alarms—gets the attention and reaction it deserves.

It’s this differentiation in addition to the ability to interoperate with other systems and improve workflows that sets Spok Mobile apart. Secure text messaging should be about so much more than security. I tell our customers that if they just want a secure text messaging app to send patient information back and forth, iMessage® and WhatsApp® will do the trick. But if they want something their clinicians will find valuable for helping to improve the care provided to patients, they need to think more strategically.

Smartphones are already overrun with standalone applications that send us notifications, and EMR inboxes will just add to that inundation. Doctors don’t want yet another inbox to have to spend time sorting through—they need to be able to quickly and easily identify and respond to the most critical messages.