Over the past decade, Electronic Health Records (EHRs) have become increasingly prevalent in hospitals and healthcare settings all over the country. Naturally, this shift towards paperless medical record-keeping has changed the way medical professionals interact with data, their patients and each other. But have these changes been for the better?
Let’s break down medical technologies like EHRs have changed hospitals:
- Ways in which medical technologies have changed hospitals for the better (and the worse)
- What physicians need from future medical technologies
- Medical technologies you can use today to improve patient experiences tomorrow
A New Kind of Hospital Experience
1. The art of reading the body is disappearing.
For a long time, the medical profession was almost more art than science. Yes, in order to successfully diagnose and treat patients you need to have a thorough understanding of biology, pathology, and scores of other medical sciences. But the reason that medical programs require so much hands-on experience-- from labs to internships to residency-- is that there is no substitution for learning how to translate that theoretical knowledge of the human body into the physical practice of working with the human body.
Unfortunately, it has been well documented that today’s medical technologies may be shifting attention away from the doctor’s physical examination of the patient. By presenting medical professionals with a predefined series of fields to complete, systems like EHRs stifle the creativity thinking, independent thought, physical analysis-- and many would argue, much of the humanity as well-- necessary to make an accurate and empathetic medical diagnosis.
2. Medication errors are becoming less frequent.
When we consider the hours that medical professionals work, the number of patients they encounter, the number of tasks they must complete and the countless individuals involved in providing care, it becomes easy to understand how medication errors can happen in even the most controlled environments. EHRs provide reliable access to a patient’s complete health information, from their allergies and family history to other medications they may be taking and appropriate dosage for a patient’s height, weight, and condition. By clearly displaying this information, EHRs have reduced medication errors, thereby improving patient care and reducing risk for the patient.
3. Doctors must now be both medical and clerical professionals.
What does a doctor do? It seems like a simple question. Doctors work with people. However, in the EHR era that’s only half of the story. In order to ensure patient data is complete enough to provide any sort of benefit to other medical staff, doctors spend hours every day entering EHR data. In fact, there is so much information to sift through that doctors often take this work home with them, spending their already limited free time logging events, health information, and observations.
4. What you see on the screen may not capture the true patient experience.
Today, one of the ways that hospitals and physicians record information for reimbursement is through logging that information in an EHR. In order to collect sufficient data and hit the “Quality Indicators” that are the basis of these assessments, medical professionals spend a disproportionate amount of time separated from their patients by a screen. If you’ve ever tried to share a meal with someone who can’t put their phone down, you know how disruptive technology can be to fostering a personal connection.
Where does this leave patients? According to quality indicators, they had an exceptional experience, but whether or not the patient felt truly cared for during their visit is much less clear.
5. Humans are messy, and data about humans is messy.
EHRs, like many technologies, were not designed by the people who would eventually use them. This means that they often don’t have room for all of the information a medical professional may want to log about a patient, and they may not have options that appropriately capture the wide, messy range of symptoms and conditions a human body can experience. If EHRs don’t provide room for this nuance to be recorded, valuable and sometimes life-saving information can be lost.
6. Doctors are burning out faster.
The medical profession has never been an easy one-- it’s physically demanding, mentally taxing, and emotionally draining. However as more hospitals have become reliant on systems like EHRs, medical professionals have been burning out faster than ever before. This professional fatigue can be expensive for hospitals in the form of high turnover rates, making it a major consideration when assessing the success of EHRs and other medical technologies.
What We Still Need from Medical Technology
Despite the challenges that medical technologies can present, medical administrators and systems have historically embraced them with open arms. This is not because the medical technologies we have today are perfect today but because of what medical technologies have the potential to be.
An ideal medical technology is one that makes care simpler and more effective, one that allows medical professionals to connect with their patients more easily but leaves the patient/physician relationship intact. Technology-- medical technology included-- has seen a recent push for user-centered design, a practice that involves end users in the development of a technology to ensure that it better meets their needs. From this work, we can expect to see improvements in medical technologies; from user interfaces that are easier to navigate and more robust data collection and support to a much-needed human element-- ways of tracking patient experiences and involving patients and families in the co-design of a better tools.
How You Can Use Medical Technology to Improve Medical Technology in Your Hospital Right Now
No matter what medical technology hospitals currently use-- whether they are EHRs, or something else-- there will always be opportunities to improve patient care. The most effective way to accomplish this is via patient shadowing, or recording patient experience data in real-time. Luckily, there are technologies available to simplify the patient shadowing process, allowing organizations to learn from real patient experiences and improve the way staff utilizes medical technology during patient visits.
Medical technologies like EHRs have changed hospital workflows dramatically. While they are not perfect, they are an important step towards using technology to improve patient care, and options like patient shadowing give medical professionals a means to optimize their use of these tools.
How has EHR use changed your hospital? We would love to hear from you in the comments below!
January 25, 2019