Eighty percent of physicians are now using electronic health records in their offices. We have been impressed that the younger physicians to whom we have spoken often view their experience with EHRs very differently from older physicians. Is such a difference inevitable, perhaps, not just because change is more difficult for many people as they get older but also because expectations are influenced by experience. Noticing these different thoughts and feelings, we’ve asked two physicians more than 55 years old and two younger physicians to share some thoughts on their experiences with electronic records.
Mathew Clark (family physician)
I’ve been in practice for 31 years and using an EHR system for just under 5. I’m not thrilled with it, but I accept that it’s an unavoidable part of my practice now, and so I don’t waste energy being upset about it. I’ve learned to function efficiently with an EHR, doing the best I can. I remember physicians, before the days of SOAP notes, who would write pithy, useful notes such as "probable strep, Pen VK 500 bid for 10 days" on 3x5 index cards. Such notes lacked detail, and it’s not hard to imagine the problems this lack of detail might create, but they were readable at a glance, and told you what you needed to know. On the other hand, the massively detailed, bloated notes we see with our EHRs, obscured by "copy-forward" text and fictional (in other words, never really asked or examined) information, present very significant practical and legal issues of their own, and take hours of physician time to complete. Given a choice, I’d probably go for the index cards.
Natalie McGann (family physician)
I have been a family physician in practice for 4 years since graduating from residency. The advent of the EHR hasn’t been an overwhelming transition for those of us in the early stages of our careers. Much of our schooling to date has included laptops and other electronic devices that for many prove an easier means of communication. Despite that fact that EHRs require a host of extraneous clicks and check boxes, it is still less cumbersome than documenting encounters on paper. For the generation of young physicians accustomed to having answers at their fingertips, the idea of flipping through paper charts to collate a patient’s medical record seems far more complicated than clicking a few tabs without ever leaving your chair. I, and most colleagues in my peer group to whom I’ve spoken, agree that we would not be likely to a join a practice that doesn’t utilize an EHR or have a current plan to adopt one. Anything less would feel like a step back at this point.
Danielle Carcia (intern, family medicine residency)
Overall, I enjoy using electronic medical records. I feel that it places all pertinent information about the patient in an easy-to-follow and concise manner. The ability to read through past providers and even at times specialists visits with a patient can be very helpful when navigating an appointment with a new patient. As a young physician, electronics have been an extension of myself for my entire adult life, so a computer in front of me during an office visit is comforting. I do not feel it distracts from my interaction with patients, or takes away from their experience at all, just the opposite, it allows me to more confidently care for them with up to date, and organized information at my fingertips.
Dave Depietro (family physician)
I have been a family physician for 25 years and feel that the EHRs have affected my office in a number of ways. It has definitely improved the efficacy of office tasks such as doing prescription refills, interoffice communication, and scheduling. Also before EHRs, the turnaround time for a dictated note was about a week, and now most notes are completed by the end of the day. This makes it easier if I am taking care of one of my partner’s patients or dealing with a patient I recently saw. Also in this day of pay for performance we can now gather data much easier. This would be almost impossible to do if we still had paper charts.
EHRs unfortunately also have their downsides. The main problem I see is that they add a significant amount of time for providers to complete tasks. When I dictated a note, I could have completed a note within 1-2 minutes where now with EHRs, it can take maybe 3-5 minutes/patient. Also to approve labs, x-rays, etc. it just takes longer. I feel that EHRs have added about 1½ hr to my day. I feel most of my colleagues have the same complaint. They routinely take work home at night and spend 1-2 hours at home completing notes. Many of my peers seem stressed and frustrated. Even though EHRs make the office more efficient, I feel that the provider pays the price. My other complaint is the cost of IT support to keep the EHRs running smoothly. The promise of EHRs is that they would save physicians’ money and reduce staffing, however I have not seen that happen.