Why EHRs do not harm the doctor-patient relationship

It's no secret that the road to widespread implementation of electronic health records has been a difficult one for some clinicians. While large providers may have had the capital to throw at a problem like staff training and new equipment purchases, small practices were faced with financial and operational issues that, while challenging, proved not to be as unsolvable as some critics had predicted. According to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, over 447,000 providers have implemented and been compensated for EHR systems in their offices.

Now that EHR software has become a large part of the medical industry, experts have turned their gazes back to an issue that dominated the discussion when federal agencies first started pushing the platform as reform alternative. The question of how EHRs affect the physician-patient relationship can seem simple at times - more screens separating clinicians from their patients can only seem wrong - but, as EHR Intelligence explained, the underlying factors may point to a different and more positive interpretation for EHRs in the workplace.

Office manners
The doctor-patient relationship goes all the way back to the days when house calls and personal physicians were only the domain of the super wealthy. Today, every patient has a right to expect their doctors to be open, polite, informative, and, most of all, confidential. Such a natural relationship fosters trust between both parties, and when outpatient treatments are the only ones possible, this level of mutual respect is necessary for both sides to move toward a positive care outcome.

However, with the rise of EHRs, especially on mobile devices, creating a meaningful doctor-patient relationship isn't as easy as it used to be. In an interview with EHR Intelligence, James Avallone, director of physician research for Manhattan Research, explained that EHR use is most certainly up, but its impact on the personal dynamics between patients and doctors is much less clear.

"Whether it is too much or too little, it is difficult for us to say from our perspective," Avallone said. "In the past four to five years, we have seen a fair share of complaints in terms of the efficiency of EHRs and how [they are] changing bedside manners for physicians overall. I do think we are starting to see some efficiencies come about in terms of efficient use of these platforms and that includes at the point of care. It is certainly something that physicians are getting used to as it becomes more ingrained in their day-to-day behaviors. They have had more time to streamline workflow and that is something that we are seeing in terms of how these devices are being used at the point of care."

Avallone noted that research from a recent Manhattan study found that 66 percent of physicians self-reported as being more efficient with their EHRs than in the past. While part of this may be due to a greater sense of familiarity with the product and how to fit it into workflows, EHR vendors have also caught up with the trends of the day by developing software that intuitively meshes with physicians' daily tasks.

A minor annoyance
While EHRs may be an easy target for opponents of the technology, studies show that EHRs are not a top concern among physicians who are worried about losing the trust and goodwill of their patients.

According to a 2013 study published in Health Affairs, only 25.8 percent of physicians reported that EHRs were threatening the doctor-patient relationship. Administrative burdens like the ICD-10 transition and HIPAA compliance regulations, on the other hand, were noted by more than 41 percent of those surveyed. 

If industry experts are truly concerned about protecting the quality of the doctor-patient relationship, then EHR software should not be the primary focus. Instead, it should be highlighted during discussions with patients to show them just how powerful it can be. From there, patients may not care so much about the time doctors spend inputting their information into a piece of software that could save their lives.

Kevin McCarthy's picture

Kevin McCarthy

Industry News Editor

An avid traveler and news junkie, Kevin covers a range of topics from healthcare technology to policy and regulations. As a former journalism student, he enjoys finding stories relevant to small practices and is passionate about keeping them informed. Before joining NueMD, Kevin worked for Turner Broadcasting as a Programming Intern where he conducted legal research and contributed to editorial content development. He received his bachelor's degree in Communication from Kennesaw State University and currently serves as the Industry News Editor at NueMD.

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