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Simplifying the Tech Stack: Is Your EHR Really the Answer?

June 16, 2022
Kendall Shadley
2 mins

Electronic health records (EHRs) have changed the way clinicians practice medicine. Depending upon who you ask, however, they may have changed things for better or for worse.

According to a survey conducted by Stanford Medicine and The Harris Poll, 63% of doctors agree that EHRs have improved clinical care. Yet, 59% said EHRs need a complete overhaul and 54% agreed using the EHR was hindering their professional satisfaction.

Why? Well, several studies point to user experience and interoperability deficiencies exacerbating burnout and administrative burden. As Health Data Management points out, “the technology ‘stack’ upon which these systems have been built hasn’t advanced much in the last 20 years.”

However, at the same time, there is a financial and operational priority amongst clinical informatics and healthcare technology leadership to simplify the tech stack. And it makes sense – anyone who has looked at an overcrowded power strip and thought “well, that’s probably not the best” can understand the conundrum. When and where possible, it makes sense to simplify tech stacks to ensure the number of technologies the organization depends upon are necessary and effective.

At the same time, the movement toward simplifying the tech stack has led to one of the most common questions from health tech leadership: Why do we need something other than the EHR?

And that question – and the preference to lean on the EHR on frontiers where it is yet to be proven – has led organizations to increase clinician burnout and expend valuable time and resources.

In this two-part series, discover when the EHR is the answer and when to rely on the expertise and functionality of an additional technology.

EHR: The Data Warehouse

The EHR has been described as the clinical “source of truth” – serving as the backbone of medical information for healthcare organization. And clinicians agree – to an extent. When defining the role of the EHR, 44% of primary care physicians agreed its purpose is for data storage. As mentioned earlier, clinicians across specialties and facilities can have access to the same information via one technology…and that is powerful. The challenge, however, is using this data.

Most clinicians find the vastness of the data warehouses that are EHRs to be hindering. As Eve Bloomgard, MD, director of thyroid care and endocrine innovation and education at North Shore University Health Systems, explains, “The fact is, we’re supposed to be digesting half of Hamlet every 20 minutes (for the typical patient encounter), and then documenting on top of that.”

John Lee, MD, senior vice president and CMIO at Allegheny Health Network, agrees. “Now we’re overwhelmed with knowledge,” said Lee. “Our limitation is being able to pick and choose what we need to apply to a particular situation.

Additional Roles for the EHR

EHRs have, however, stretched outside of the data warehouse function – and to some success. For example, EHR patient portals have increased transparency and access with patients regarding their clinical care. Not only can patients communicate securely with clinicians via these EHR applications, but they can also schedule appointments, access their medical histories, pay bills, and refill prescriptions.

In these ways, EHR advancements have been fruitful for patients and for providers. Putting these abilities directly within the hands of patients gives them increased autonomy and, for the organization, increases operational efficiencies. Fewer calls to schedule appointments or fill prescriptions? That’s the dream for any front-end clinical staff member.

Bridging the Gap

EHRs have clear value – that is evident. The challenge for healthcare leadership, however, is to know when to move outside the EHR.

The answer to that question for clinicians and clinical leadership is clear. As described above, when it comes to accessing, transforming, and drawing insights from patient data, the EHR is not the answer. Helping technology leadership understand why that is…is an additional task.

More on that in part two.

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