Thanks to some technology incentives from the government over the past several years, electronic health records (EHRs) have permeated the U.S. healthcare industry very quickly. Fewer than two out of 10 physicians used EHR systems in 2001. Just a decade later that jumped to six out of 10. Studies and surveys vary, but most find 75 to 80 percent of physicians are using them today. And, although there are varying opinions, most of the studies I’ve read find EHRs to be useful and beneficial to patient safety and care quality.
However, EHRs are not, by design, communication tools. They’re a treasure trove of information, but they’re rooted in documentation and not purpose-built for workflow communication.
I see the EHR as the documentation or tracking system, and complementary communication tools as how the interactions are actually accomplished. For example, if you’re in IT, your documentation system may be your project management or agile development software. But when it comes down to actually communicating with your colleagues to execute the work on these outlined projects, you connect with them via communication tools like instant messaging, email, or web conferencing.
The EHR is similar in that it is the center of information, but it needs to be complemented by communication tools to manage the minute-to-minute, or even second-to-second, aspects of care delivery. Let’s say a physician wants to order a series of labs. She enters them into the CPOE. Communication occurs so the desired samples are taken from the patient. Tests are run on the samples, and the results are entered into the EHR, right back where they’re supposed to be. Yet, the results still need to be communicated. And it can take a lot of time for phone tag, pages, and so on to finally close the loop on this workflow. Information needs to be communicated quickly to the right people for the most optimized workflows. Technology can move this asynchronous communication to effortless electronic alerts and messaging.
I recently spoke about this need for communication tools that complement the EHR at Becker’s Hospital Review CIO Annual CIO/HIT + Revenue Cycle Summit. Watch the video to learn more about these communication tools, and hear what we think about the future of EHRs and the impact of mobile communication on care coordination.