But many doctors have come to hate computers. Overwhelmed by administrative tasks, they now spend more time entering data than interacting with patients. Until now, electronic health records have not been the panacea for efficiency and safety that many have hoped for. However, issues are being identified and there is still hope that such systems will reach their potential as they mature.
Forty years ago, when personal computers were infancy, a person’s medical records consisted of several sheets of paper in a folder. Twenty years later, this folder was full of copies, printouts and faxes of test results, but the medical community has been slow to adopt digital therapies.
The digitization of U.S. medical records has skyrocketed since the U.S. began a major push in 2009. According to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 2017, 96% of hospitals and 86% of physician offices in the United States had access to electronic health records.
But US primary care physicians are dissatisfied. In a 2018 survey by California-based Stanford Medicine, 59% said they thought the system should be overhauled. Health care managers and electronic health record developers are looking for fixes.
Part of the data entry burden comes from the 140 data points proposed by Halamka’s working group, which must be collected from every patient at each visit. Halamka supports that the recommendation is reasonable, but when combined with other changes, including the 2010 US Health Insurance Act enactment, expanded patient privacy requirements, and an updated version of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, doctors have become overloaded. However, Wachter says some data points are not intended for use by physicians. Rather, it has requested inclusion from private health care companies that use it to reward hospitals for documenting good health practices for patients, such as smoking cessation.