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Ebola and EHR Workflow

Posted on November 20, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 13 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Earlier this month, the EHR Workflow fanatic addict expert, Charles Webster, MD, put together a webinar on EHR workflow (imagine that). However, he decided to piggyback the Ebola headline and talk about EHR workflow and a bit about how it applied to the Ebola incident. I love the marketing behind it.

EHR workflow is a topic of interest to me and so this summer I had Charles Webster, MD do an EHR workflow series over on EMR and HIPAA. Turns out, he covers a number of the same EHR workflow topics in the webinar embedded below:
-What it workflow?
-What is workflow technology?
-What is a workflow engine?
-What is a workflow editor?
-What is workflow visibility?

If you have an interest in EHR workflow, here’s Chuck’s webinar:

EHR Requires You to Reconsider Your Workflow

Posted on November 19, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 13 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Despite many EHR vendors best efforts to tell you otherwise, an EHR requires every organization to reconsider their workflow. Sure, many of them can be customized to match your unique clinical needs, but the reality is that implementing an EHR requires change. All of us resist change to different degrees, but I have yet to see an EHR implementation that didn’t require change.

What many people don’t like to admit is that sometimes change can be great. As humans, we seem to focus too much on the down side to change and have a hard time recognizing when things are better too. A change in workflow in your office thanks to an EHR might be the best thing that can happen to you and your organization.

One problem I’ve seen with many EHRs is that they do a one off EHR implementation and then stop there. While the EHR implementation is an important one time event, a quality EHR implementation requires you to reconsider your workflow and how you use your EHR on an ongoing basis. Sometimes this means implementing new features that came through an upgrade to an EHR. Other times, your organization is just in a new place where it’s ready to accept a change that it wasn’t ready to accept before. This ongoing evaluation of your current EHR processes and workflow will provide an opportunity for your organization to see what they can do better. We’re all so busy, it’s amazing how valuable sitting down and talking about improvement can be.

I recently was talking with someone who’d been the EHR expert for her organization. However, her organization had just decided to switch EHR software vendors. Before the switch, she was regularly visited by her colleagues to ask her questions about the EHR software. With the new EHR, she wasn’t getting those calls anymore (might say something good about the new EHR or bad about the old EHR). She then confided in me that she was a little concerned about what this would mean for her career. She’d kind of moved up in the organization on the back of her EHR expertise and now she was afraid she wouldn’t be needed in that capacity.

While this was a somewhat unique position, I assured her that there would still be plenty of need for her, but that she’d have to approach it in a little different manner. Instead of being the EHR configuration guru, she should becoming the EHR optimization guru. This would mean that instead of fighting fires, her new task would be to understand the various EHR updates that came out and then communicate how those updates were going to impact the organization.

Last night I had dinner with an EHR vendor who told me that they thought that users generally only used about 50% of the features of their EHR. That other 50% of EHR features presents an opportunity for every organization to get more value out of their EHR software. Whether you tap into these and newly added EHR features through regular EHR workflow assessments, an in house EHR expert who’s constantly evaluating things, or hiring an outside EHR consultant, every organization needs to find a way to regularly evaluate and optimize their EHR workflow.

Burned In EHR Workflows

Posted on November 7, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 13 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

One of the hospital CIOs at The Breakaway Group focus group at the CHIME Fall Forum talked about what he called “Burned IN EHR Workflows.” I thought the concept was really interesting and no doubt something we can all relate with. We all know when the workflows we do are finally burned into our psyche. We often call it our daily routine and we all hate when our routine is disrupted.

As I thought about this idea, I wondered at what point the EHR workflow is finally “burnt in.” There are a lot of factors that go into burning in the EHR workflow. I’d say it rarely happens during EHR training. Although, with the right EHR training it could be the case. The key question is how well your EHR training emulates the actually environment and workflow of the user. Are you just training them on the EHR software or are you training them on the EHR workflow with the new EHR software? I always did the later and found it so much more effective.

As another CIO at CHIME said, “Users don’t want to know the 10 ways to do the same thing. They want to know the single most effective way to do it.” Of course, figuring out the most effective way to do something is the hard part and why so many EHR trainings fall short.

The good thing about burnt in EHR workflows is that if you’ve implemented a great workflow, then it’s great. The problem is that we often burn in sub optimal EHR workflows. I had this happen to me all the time. I’d ask one of my EHR users why they did something a certain way when it would be so much easier to do it another way. It was just the way the EHR workflow was burnt in.

Changing that already burned in EHR workflow is really hard. Although, it’s not impossible and is often necessary. You just have to burn in a new workflow. However, it also often requires an explanation of why the new workflow is better. Good luck changing someone’s workflow when they liked the old workflow. You better have a good reason or they’re unlikely to change.

What Are the Merits of the Hybrid Workflow?

Posted on June 2, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 13 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

In my regular series of Google Plus hangouts, I had a chance to interview Vishal Gandhi, Founder and CEO of ClinicSpectrum. I was most interested with Vishal’s almost obsessive view of the value of the hybrid workflow in healthcare. You can watch the video below to see all of the ways he applies the hybrid workflow and what he means by it, but it’s basically a mix of technology and people power to improve any workflow. I think the idea has a lot of merit and needs to be applied to a lot more areas of healthcare. Like I’ve said many times, just because there could be a technology solution doesn’t mean it’s the best or the right solution.

Be sure to check out all of our Healthcare IT and EHR videos.

When an EHR Pilot Makes Sense

Posted on May 6, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 13 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I’ve been a real fan lately of Dr. Jayne’s in the trenches commentary on the EHR implementations she’s apart of as CMIO. In her latest post she offered some really valuable insight into the integration of a physician group her health system purchased. The physician group wanted a bunch of custom content and Dr. Jayne’s team had convinced them of half of their recommendations and then she offers this insight:

At this point and given their resistance, I can get on board with half. It’s certainly more than none. Through discussion of their actual needs and observing their workflow, we’ve even identified a handful of customizations that we’re going to advocate that our vendor incorporate into the product out of the box. Ultimately, what allowed us to get the agreement we achieved was the idea they will be piloting the changes for a couple of months after the upgrade and then we’ll revisit them.

We added the pilot approach when we sensed they were stuck in analysis paralysis. The reluctance of the identified physician champions to make decisions was palpable. They feared backlash from their colleagues and claimed to be unable to reach consensus.

I had a somewhat similar situation happen to me on my first EHR implementation. The clinic had real fears about the transition to EHR. However, they needed to replace some old bubble scanning sheets which were no longer supported on this really old system. So, instead of going all in with a full EHR implementation, we did a partial EHR implementation as a kind of “pilot” for the clinic.

What resulted from this was really amazing. A week or so into the partial EHR implementation, the providers started asking us why we weren’t using the rest of the EHR features. In fact, some of them started using the other features before we even asked or trained them on it. I still remember walking into the director’s office and saying, “They’re asking me why we aren’t using all of the EHR features.” We quickly corrected that and implemented the full EHR a few weeks later.

You should never underestimate the value of jealousy. If you let a few people play with the shiny new toy, the others will be jealous. Of course, you better make sure that the shiny new toy works as proposed. Plus, don’t get sick with Pilotitis either.

Dr. Jayne also offered this powerful insight which says a lot about her as a leader in her institution:

I’ve been through this enough times to know what kinds of darts their colleagues might start throwing, so I was happy to offer myself as a virtual human shield. If using the larger health system as the scapegoat for required change is what it takes to move them ahead, so be it.

There are a lot of ways to deal with the “darts” of colleagues. Although, the best answer to the problem is having a real leader with a vision and understanding of where you want to take your EHR. Having a great leader at the helm of an EHR implementation has been the key difference between the good and bad EHR implementations I’ve seen.

NIST Dissects Workflow: Is Anyone Biting?

Posted on March 26, 2014 I Written By

When Carl Bergman isn't rooting for the Washington Nationals or searching for a Steeler bar, he’s Managing Partner of EHRSelector.com, a free service for matching users and EHRs. For the last dozen years, he’s concentrated on EHR consulting and writing. He spent the 80s and 90s as an itinerant project manger doing his small part for the dot com bubble. Prior to that, Bergman served a ten year stretch in the District of Columbia government as a policy and fiscal analyst.

Psst. Hey, Buddy, wanna see an EHR, visit’s workflow? Here it is, thanks to the National Institutes of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) new report, NISTIR 7988, Integrating Electronic Health Records into Clinical Workflow, etc.

Returning Patient Ambulatory Workflow NIST

What It Represents

NIST wants to make EHRs usable and useful. It first took aim at patient safety EHR functions that endangered, confused users or were error prone. To counter these, it developed and recommended EHR usability protocols.

Now, in an extensive report, it’s tackled EHR workflow to determine where problems occur. The result is a comprehensive work with significant findings and recommendations. The question is: Is anyone listening?

NIST’s Analytical Approach

NIST decided to create a typical workflow by interviewing knowledgeable physicians, who it calls Subject Matter Experts, SMEs. The physicians had different specialties and used different EHRs, though who they were, NIST doesn’t say.

From their discussions, NIST’s analysts created the above chart, NIST’s Figure 2. NIST’s authors recognize that actual workflows will vary based on setting, sequences, staffing, etc., but that it provides a useful way to look at these issues.

What They Did With It

Working with their physicians, NIST’s analysts broke down the workflow into three sections: before, during and after the visit. Then, they broke down, or decomposed, each of those sections, like opening nested Russian dolls. For example, they segmented the physician’s encounter, below, and once again, broke each down into its functions.

Returning Patient, Physician Encounter - NIST

What They Found

It was at this stage the analysts found significant variations among the EHRs used by their physicians,

[T]here appeared to be high variation in whether and how the EHR was used during this period, how extensive each of the activities typically were for each SME, different based upon the type of patient, how complex the patient was, context of how busy the day was, and other factors. NSTIR 7988, p 18.

Despite these differences, the physicians identified two issues that crossed their EHRs:

  • Working Diagnoses. The physicians wanted systems that let them create a working diagnosis and modify it as they worked until they made a final diagnosis. Similarly, they wanted to be able to back up and make changes as needed, something current systems make hard.
  • Multiple Diagnoses. Diagnoses usually involve multiple causes, not single factors. They wanted their EHRs to support this.

These types of issues aren’t new to those familiar with EHR problems. What’s new is NIST, as an independent, scientific organization, defining, cataloguing and explaining them and their consequences.

What They Recommended

From this work, NIST’s analysts developed extensive and persuasive recommendations, in three categories:

  • EHR Functions
  • System Settings, and
  • System Supports

EHR Functions

NIST’s recommends reducing practitioner workload, while increasing their options and supports. For example, they suggest:

  • Workload Projections. Give practitioners a way to see their patient workloads in advance, so they can plan their work more effectively
  • Notes to Self. Let users create reminder notes about upcoming visit issues or to highlight significant ,patient information. These would be analogous to their hand written notes they used to put on paper charts.
  • Single Page Summaries. Create single page labs summaries rather than making users plow through long reports for new information.
  • Single Page Discharge Summaries. Eliminate excessive boiler plate with more intelligent and useful discharge sheets.
  • Highlight Time Critical Information. Segregate time critical information. Often they get mixed in with other notices where they may be overlooked or hard to find.
  • Allow Time Pressure Overrides. When time is critical, EHRs should allow skipping certain functions.
  • System Settings

NIST recommendations echo the familiar litany of issues that characterize poor implementations:

  • Allow Patient Eye Contact. Exam room designs should put the doctor and patient in a comfortable, direct relationship with the computer as a support.
  • Login Simplification. Allow continuous logins or otherwise cut down on constant login and outs.

System Supports

The physicians recognized they often caused workflow bottlenecks. NIST recommended off loading work to medical assistants, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, etc.. For example, physician assistants could draft predicted orders for routine situations for the physician to review and approve.

Progress Note Frustrations

In the thorny area of clinical documentation, the report details physician frustration with their EHRs. All experienced excessive or missing options, click option hell, excessive output, puzzling terms, etc. These were compounded by time consuming system steps that did not aid in diagnosis or solving patient problems. The report discusses their attempts at improving documentation:

Several of the SMEs had attempted and then abandoned strategies to increase the efficiency of documentation. One SME reported that copying and pasting and “smart text” where typing commands generate auto-text had a “vigilance problem.” The issue was that it would be too easy to put the wrong or outdated information in or in the wrong place and not detect it, and then someone later, including himself, could act on it not realizing that it was incorrect.

One physician described an attempt to use automated speech recognition for dictation for a patient with scleritis, which is inflammation of the white of the eye. He stopped using the software when what was documented in the note was “squirrel actress.”

Another SME described that colleagues relied upon medical assistants to draft the note and then completed it, but they did not like that approach because it was too tempting to rely upon what was typed without reviewing it, and he felt the medical knowledge level was not high enough for this task.

One SME described a reluctance to use any scribe, including a medical student, because the risk would be too high of misunderstanding and thus not correctly documenting the historical information, diagnosis, and treatment plan. This was particularly problematic if the physician had information from prior visits, which contributed to these elements, which were not discussed in detail during the visit. NSTIR 7988, p. 28

Coding their diagnoses into progress notes also came in for criticism:

All SMEs described frustration with requirements to enter information into progress notes, …, which were applied to the notes in order to have sufficient justification to receive reimbursement for services. Although all of the SMEs acknowledged the central importance of receiving reimbursement in order to function as a business, this information was often not important for clinical needs. NSTIR 7988, p. 28

Role Based Progress Note

Unlike other areas of the report, the doctors could not agree on what to do, nor does NIST offer any specific cures for documentation problems. Instead, NIST recommends using a new, role based, progress note:

[T]he progress note for a primary care physician would have a different view from a specialist such as a urologist physician, who might not need to see all of the information displayed to the primary care physician. Similarly, the view of the note for primary care providers could differ from the view of a billing and coding specialist. … NSTIR 7988, p. 28

Will ONC Respond?

In this and its prior reports, NIST covers a lot of EHR issues making sensible recommendations that not only improve functionality, but more importantly improve patient safety. However, NIST’s recommendations are just that. It’s not a regulatory agency, nor is supposed to be one. Instead, its role is to work with industry and experts to develop usable, practical approaches to tough technical, often safety related, problems. To its credit, it’s done this in a vast number of fields from airplane cockpits, nuclear reactors, and atomic clocks to bullet proof vests.

However, its EHR actions have not gained any noticeable traction. If any EHR vendor has implemented NIST’s usability protocols, they haven’t said so. They are not alone.

Notably ONC, one of NIST’s major EHR partners, refuses to incorporate any of NIST’s usability recommendations. Instead, ONC requires vendors to implement User Centered Design, but does not define it, letting each vendor do that for themselves.

NIST has many answers to common EHR workflow and usability problems. The question is, who will bring them to bear?

Ideas, Insights and Predictions from Healthcare Social Media Thought Leaders

Posted on July 16, 2013 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 13 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I thought it would be fun to experiment with a new type of blog post. I came up with the idea during the recent #HITsm chat. I decided I’d ask 5 of the #HITsm participants to share an idea, prediction, insight, or thought that I could share in a blog post. I didn’t give them a topic, direction, or ask any questions. I just asked them to share something that thought would be useful or interesting. I found the results quite interesting.

I asked 5 people to tweet something. Only 4 of the 5 responded (probably a lost Twitter DM), but one of the people sent two tweets. So, the following are the 5 tweets with a little bit of commentary from me.


This is a really interesting insight. Chad has a really good point. I’m not sure I’ve seen a truly open HIE that just wanted to be the company sharing the data. I think a few have that goal in mind, but they haven’t gotten there yet. It will be a real game changer when an HIE just wants to be the pipes and not the faucet as well. I will say that most healthcare organizations aren’t quite ready to implement the faucet though either.


Thank you Dr. Nan for bringing some humor to the post. I love it! Although, maybe it’s not that funny since it rings far too close to the truth. I might also share this with my wife so she understands age appropriate behavior for our children.


This was the other tweet that Dr. Nan sent. You can tell it comes from a raw place. I’m actually surprised we don’t talk about doctor depression more. I read a lot of entrepreneur blogs and there’s been a real increase in discussion around entrepreneur depression. I expect that doctors could really benefit from this discussion as well. For some reason there’s a fear of discussing the real challenges and pressures of the job.


Would we expect anything other than workflow from Dr. Webster? I’m not sure I like his prediction. I hope he’s wrong. I don’t want a workaround for EHR workflow. I want something drastically different.


I love this concept and refer to it as treating healthy patients. Although, I love Ryan’s approach of patients taking responsibility for their own health and engaging with those they love in health-generating behaviors. Sure, doctors are miracle workers, but we as patients should be much more involved in our health as well.

That’s all she wrote. If you like this idea, let me know. If you’d like to participate in a future post, be sure to tweet me @ehrandhit.

Balancing EHR Change vs Train

Posted on May 21, 2013 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 13 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I was talking with Heather Haugen from The Breakaway Group (A Xerox company) today and in our discussion she used the word “train”, but I heard the word “change”. I always love a good play on words and so it was interesting for me to consider the difference between change and train in an EHR implementation.

Every EHR implementation I’ve been apart of walks a fine line between users wanting the EHR software to change versus the need for an EHR user to change. One of the most common phrases out of a doctor’s mouth during an EHR implementation is, “Why did the EHR vendor implement that feature like this? Did they not talk to a doctor? This makes no sense.” We’ve dug in previously to the concept of EHR vendors consulting doctors during their EHR development so we won’t go into that further now. Every EHR vendor consults doctors, but no two doctors practice alike. So, it’s normal that every doctor would wonder why certain features are implemented the way they are implemented.

When faced with this issue, the doctor is faced with an important decision with two options. The first option is to work with the EHR vendor and convince them to change how their EHR works. In a large hospital EHR vendor situation, this can be almost impossible. Plus, even if that EHR vendor does like your suggested change it’s going to take months and sometimes years before that change is implemented in the EHR software, tested, and released all the way to you the end user. Yes, these changes can go faster with a SaaS EHR, but it still will likely take months before the change reaches the end user.

In some cases, you can wait for the change to be made before using that EHR feature. However, more often than not a doctor is going to have to train on how the EHR vendor has implemented the feature. This highlights to me why having great EHR training is so important. Sure, many of the things in an EHR will be intuitive, but great EHR training is still always beneficial. EHR software is too complex to just pickup and use. Plus, even if you can use the basic EHR features, good training points out the ways to optimize the EHR workflow.

Most doctors don’t understand why various parts of an EHR workflow can’t be easily changed. They just think change should happen easily. Ironically, the doctor then proceeds to resist any change to how they want to work.

Three Tips For EHR Transitions

Posted on May 20, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Moving a medical practice from paper to an EHR is no picnic.  Staff and physicians both may find the process difficult, and the changes they have to make to be threatening. But there are approaches you can take which can make the process easier.  Here’s a nice triad of suggestions from EHR implementation manager Amanda Guerrero:

* Make workflow changes gradual:

Too often, medical practices assume that they can implement an EHR without making major changes to their workflow.  The reality is, however, that many processes which worked fine on paper don’t work when you switch to using EHRs, Guerrero notes. So how do you go about making changes without upsetting and confusing staff and clinicians?  The idea, she says, is to make sure changes happen gradually. Giving people time to adapt to changes helps a lot with staff morale. (It doesn’t hurt to explain how the changes will benefit both staff and patients, either.)

Ask for feedback:

Bearing in mind that changes to workflow will have to be made, how do you choose which changes come first? One way, Guerrero says, is to ask the people who are using the EHR which processes are slowing things down the most.  Be sure, she recommends, to include doctors, nurses, front desk and even billing staff in collecting feedback — after all, virtually any part of the practice can be affected by the EHR.  Once you’ve figured out which areas are the most troublesome, arrange them in order of importance so you can take them on in the most effective manner.

Educate patients:

Now that Meaningful Use has pushed practices into making patient health data available to them, it’s time to encourage them to use it. That being said, patients may be overwhelmed by the amount of data being presented, especially when interpreting lab results, Guerrero suggests.  To reduce the impact of this change on patients, and avoid confusion, make sure you help them understand what they’re looking at and how it can help them improve their healthy, she says. And make sure let patients know you’re available to help answer questions.

Physician Guidance for EHR Success

Posted on February 14, 2013 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 13 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I want to take a look at the complaint I hear over and over and over again when it comes to EHR software. I’ve heard this comment said about every single EHR vendor out there. I’ve also heard it from doctors in every specialty and from every size organization. It comes in a few different forms, but all communicates the same idea. This is the doctor complaint I’m talking about:

Did the EHR vendor even talk to a practicing doctor when they developed this EHR?

Yes, the complaint is usually voiced as a question, but the question is lathered up with an unbelievable shock that an EHR vendor could misunderstand a doctor’s workflow needs so terribly. Plus, it’s reinforced with the belief that if the EHR vendor had somehow just talked to a doctor, any doctor, that this wouldn’t be the result.

Of course, the situation is much more complicated than that statement supposes. In fact, there’s a great thread on the HIMSS LinkedIn group that has a bunch of deep discussion on how to create a healthy partnership between providers and EHR companies.

One key to understanding this relationship is first that every single EHR company has consulted doctors (usually many many doctors) in the development of their EHR software.

Many doctors will then wonder how they could have an experience like the one I described above if the EHR vendor consulted a practicing doctor (and I assure you many many doctors have had the experience above). The answer to that question has multiple layers. The first layer that most practicing doctors see is that “most doctors that consult EHR companies aren’t really practicing doctors.” In many cases, this is definitely the case. Many Chief Medical Officers at EHR companies have made EHR their full time job and no longer practice medicine. Many physician founded EHR companies have a physician leading the company that no longer practices medicine. Certainly some portion of the EHR workflow disconnect could be related to non-practicing providers driving the EHR development process, but that’s just one layer.

The second layer is that in every case I’ve seen there’s always been practicing providers involved in the EHR development process as well. They are active in user groups. They sit in focus groups. EHR vendors go to the practicing physician’s office to learn from them first hand. Most EHR companies really do make a sincere effort to understand the practicing physicians and not just try and guess at what the practicing physicians want.

Another layer to this problem is translating what the practicing physician requests into the EHR workflow. Now imagine that two practicing physicians request the polar opposite feature (yes, this happens a lot too). How then do you translate that feature into something that’s going to satisfy both physicians. That’s not an easy thing to accomplish.

The next challenge to consider is that many physicians aren’t technically astute enough to know what they want. When this is the case, they don’t know what they should even be asking for. I’m sure many doctors will scoff at this idea, but it’s the same concept for programmers. Many programmers aren’t technically astute enough to understand the medical world well enough to develop what the doctor wants. It’s a two way street and is why it’s so important for EHR companies to create an amazing collaboration between the right doctors and the right programmers. That’s a special breed of person that is not easily found.

Of course, I haven’t even mentioned the specialty layer. A technically astute practicing physician in cardiology will likely do a terrible job designing an EHR workflow that works well for pediatrics, OB, and general medicine. If you thought it was hard creating an EHR workflow that works for all the doctors in one specialty, now try and do that across 40+ medical specialties.

If you remember back to the paper chart world (which many of you are still living in), how come we didn’t have a standard paper form that every doctor used to document the visit? In fact, it was pretty rare that any 2 non-affiliated clinics used the same form at all. Sure, some forms were exchanged at the medical societies, but in most cases each clinic wanted to modify the form to fit their own clinic’s needs and desires. This happens in the EMR world to some extent, but it takes more training and skill to modify an EHR workflow than the Word document you got from your colleague. Plus, many don’t want to invest the time to make those modifications.

I’m not trying to put the blame for this on anyone in particular. Plus, I don’t want to make this sound like an excuse for EHR vendors to be lazy in how they approach their EHR development. We can be sure that some of the issues I describe above aren’t because the doctors didn’t provide good requirements and not because the programmer didn’t know how to meet those requirements. Some of the problems we see have to do with a combination of rushed release times or lazy programming (which are related). When this is the case, EHR vendors should take it on the chin and deal with the issues rather than trying to blame someone else.

With that said, hopefully I’ve made clear that it’s not enough for an EHR vendor to just consult a practicing physician. If that was the case, then all 300+ EHR companies would have beautifully designed EHRs that physicians’ love. Instead, I think the fact that so many of the 300+ EHR vendors have this issue, it illustrates how hard it is to get a technically astute practicing physician that can get programmers to make a beautiful interface that applies across all specialties.

From now on, I hope to hear physicians who have this problem change their question to, “Did the EHR vendor even talk to a technically astute practicing doctor in my specialty that works the way I like to work and practices medicine the way I like to practice medicine and bills the way I bill and in the region I live when they developed this EHR?” Then, we’ll all be able to easily answer “No, it seems like not.