Medical-school admissions officers say they can spot a candidate with potential by examining the handwritten essay that accompanies the application. If the candidate’s handwriting is legible, the admissions office stamps “NO” on the application and moves on to the next candidate.
That’s a joke– or it would be, perhaps, if it were funnier. In any case, it’s based on the common belief that doctors have terrible handwriting.
Someone in Washington must take jokes like that seriously, because Obamacare – the Affordable Care Act – includes $22 billion in 2014 Medicare and Medicaid funding to reduce reliance on handwritten medical charts and replace them with computerized records. The computer files are called Electronic Health Records and doctors aren’t happy about them.
The idea behind EHRs is a good one; even doctors agree. Digital medical records are less likely to be lost or destroyed in an accident. They can be communicated instantly and flawlessly when they are needed by the admissions department or billing clerks or insurance companies or the medical lab or the hospital pharmacy or other doctors. Electronic records are filed automatically and they can be retrieved years later, even sent to a new hospital if the patient relocates. The advantages of moving to a digital system are obvious and undeniable.
Electronic Health Records Cut Into Time with Patients
In practice, however, the EHR mandate places a significant data-entry burden on physicians. Doctors say they’re already overburdened in the workplace. Now they’re spending too much time filling out forms on the computer, they complain, and less time with patients.
The doctors’ complaints are not without merit, according to a study published in the November 2013 edition of the American Journal of Emergency Medicine. Researchers found that emergency-room physicians spend an average of 43 percent of their time doing data entry, compared to just 28 percent of their time interacting with patients. In a 10-hour shift, an emergency room doctor makes more than 4,000 mouse-clicks to facilitate EHR.
Doctors say that something’s got to give. Technology is supposed to speed diagnosis and aid patient treatment – and in many ways it does. But turning busy doctors into clerk-typists is an unintended and unacceptable side-effect.
Technology Solutions at SteleRAD
In the long term, further technological advances may ameliorate this problem. Smartphone users can order pizza by talking aloud to their phones; it’s only a matter of time before physicians can update patient records by speaking instead of typing. That would make a big difference.
Smarter devices can also make a difference. For example, SteleRAD radiologists are well-versed in using PAC systems as a way to interpret medical imaging studies. SteleRAD is experienced in providing electronic digital reporting to referring doctors, which increases speed, accuracy and collaboration. That’s a step in the right direction.