The Perfect EMR is Mythology

Posted on November 9, 2011 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 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 and 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 don’t know about the rest of you, but ever since David Blumenthal left ONC he’s had plenty of interesting things to say. I think he’s still somewhat cautious, but you can tell he’s given himself more freedom to comment on the state of EHR software and how it could be improved.

One example of this was in Andy Oram’s writeup of David Blumenthal’s speech in Boston a little while back. Here’s one section of Andy’s write up that really hit me (emphasis mine):

Perhaps Blumenthal’s enthusiasm for putting electronic records in place and seek interoperability later may reflect a larger pragmatism he brought up several times yesterday. He praised the state of EHRs (pushing back against members of the audience with stories to tell of alienated patients and doctors quitting the field in frustration), pointing to a recent literature survey where 92% of studies found improved outcomes in patient care, cost control, or user satisfaction. And he said we would always be dissatisfied with EHRs because we compare them to some abstract ideal

I don’t think his assurances or the literature survey can assuage everyone’s complaints. But his point that we should compare EHRs to paper is a good one. Several people pointed out that before EHRs, doctors simply lacked basic information when making decisions, such as what labs and scans the patient had a few months ago, or even what diagnosis a specialist had rendered. How can you complain that EHRs slow down workflow? Before EHRs there often was no workflow! Many critical decisions were stabs in the dark.

Lots of interesting discussion points there, but the one I take away from it is that there’s no such thing as the perfect EMR. Blumenthal is dead on that many doctors have this abstract ideal of what an EMR should be and it will never be that way. Certainly there are benefits to implementing an EMR, but there are also some challenges to using an EMR as well. No amount of programming and design are going to ever change that.

I wish I could find a description I read 4-5 years ago from an EHR vendor talking about the doctors they liked to work with. In it they described that they liked working with doctors who had reasonable expectations of the EHR implementation. They wanted to work with doctors who wanted to go electronic. They wanted to work with clinics that understood that some change was required as part of any IT implementation. From what I can tell, that EHR vendor has basically done just that.

Reminds me of trying to force my kids to do something they don’t want to do. Never seems to end well. Instead, it’s a much more satisfying experience for all when I help them understand why we’re doing what we’re doing. They still don’t like some of the details in many cases, but at least they understand the purpose for what we’re doing.

As long as doctors cling to some abstract ideal of EMR perfection, no EMR vendor will ever be able to satisfy them. A perfect EMR is not reasonable. Just because an EMR doesn’t offer everything that you could dream, doesn’t mean it’s not an incremental improvement over what you’re doing today.

Don’t let the quest for perfection get in the way of incremental improvement. Perfection is more nearly obtained through many incremental improvement than giant leaps.