Cognitive Dissonance and EMRs

Posted on July 18, 2012 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 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.

A new CDC study has documented what’s pretty much old news to us EMR watchers, that more than half of U.S. doctors have taken their charts digital. The study also concluded that most are pretty happy with their EMR, heaven help us, and that it’s improved patient care.

According to a study by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, 55 percent of U.S. doctors have adopted some type of EMR.  More interestingly, for folks like me at least, 75 percent of those who have have met Meaningful Use Stage 1 criteria, something I might not have predicted if I hadn’t read the study.

This seems a bit strange to me, honestly. I’ve talked to countless doctors about their EMRs, both hospital- and practice-based, and I’ve only met a couple who actually felt satisfied with the system(s) they use. I haven’t met any that felt the systems have improved patient care, though I admit my sample isn’t drawn scientifically. (Vendors, I’m not saying that *nobody’s* happy, just that these numbers sound high, to be clear.)

The best explanation I can come up with for such results, which came from 3,200 doctors completing a mail-in survey, is the impact of cognitive dissonance.  Let me explain.

Doctors are being  pressured with thumb screws to make the switch, and it’s hardly surprising that most have come around.  So they’ve gone ahead and spent what in some cases are huge sums of money to make the leap.

The thing is, when you’re forced to use something every day, you can’t just keep on hating it more and more. Nobody has that much energy.  So over time, you resolve the cognitive dissonance — the battling “EMR painful” and “EMR necessary” thoughts — by learning to love Big Brother EMR, or at least believe that you do.

Then again, though I’d have trouble believing this, maybe there’s hordes of satisfied doctors that never come to the attention of a cynic like me. What do you think?